Shoppers wait in line to purchase ammunition and guns at Gun World in Burbank, Calif., on March 17 as U.S. sales of guns and ammunition soar amid the Coronavirus outbreak.
The NRA has always been guided by a simple premise: The right to keep and bear arms was recognized as essential in 1791, when it was officially adopted into our Constitution, and no public official has the authority to revisit that decision.
So while the COVID-19 outbreak has changed many aspects of American life in the last several months, your NRA has not only remained steadfast in ensuring that the Second Amendment does not become a casualty of the virus, we’ve forged ahead in securing our rights against future infringements.
History will record how in early 2020, a deadly contagion emerged from China to wreck havoc around the world.
America went into “lock-down” to contain the spread, with hundreds of millions effectively confined to their homes.
Who can emerge and on what terms hasn’t depended on whether or not a person is infected (there’s often no way to tell), but whether the governing authorities have determined an activity or business to be “essential” or “non-essential.”
Many brave people have worked heroically to care for the sick and to ensure the country remains supplied with food, medicine and other necessities. Nurses, farmers, truck drivers, grocers and pharmacists are, to name a few, serving on the front lines of this campaign.
Others, however, have been overcome by concern over the virus and willing to accept any new restraint on freedom in hopes of achieving some increment of safety.
No doubt, decisive mitigation measures were necessary and appropriate in responding to the outbreak’s early stages, as other countries reeled from its effects, and scientists and doctors scrambled to understand and counter this novel Coronavirus.
Yet, the NRA has seen too many crises, real or imagined, exploited by opportunistic politicians and activists to assail America’s essential liberties—not because it was necessary to avert danger but simply because fear made some people more passive to overreach.
We recall, for example, how authorities seized firearms from law-abiding residents of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
We remember that a North Carolina city even used the pretext of harsh winter weather to try to ban the otherwise lawful sale and carrying of firearms in 2012.
And we haven’t forgotten the governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands signing an order in 2017 for the National Guard to seize residents’ lawfully-owned firearms and ammunition, supposedly in response to the approach of Hurricane Irma.
This is hardly an exhaustive list of such abuses.
And so we have remained vigilant against any attempt to use the fear and uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 emergency to advance the pre-existing agenda to undermine the Second Amendment.
We didn’t have to wait long.
Patient Zero of the eventual epidemic of opportunistic gun control was Champaign, Ill., where in early March an ordinance was passed to give the mayor authority to ban the sale, transfer or even “giving away” of “firearms or ammunition of any character whatsoever.”
After being rebuffed by a tsunami of complaints, the mayor would later claim she never intended to exercise the authority to infringe Second Amendment rights.
But documents would then emerge from a public records request showing that days before the anti-gun ordinance was passed, the mayor was promoting a “training” seminar conducted by a Michael Bloomberg-backed gun-control organization.
Soon thereafter, the NRA was forced to disperse most staffers to their homes and to cancel its 149th Annual Meeting in Nashville, Tenn., all as part of our own commitment to being good citizens and to protecting the health and safety of the NRA family and the public.
But we remain on the job with the same focus and dedication, facing not just the virus but a pandemic of anti-gun activity.
By the second and third weeks of March, events were transpiring so quickly with respect to COVID-19 and the Second Amendment that it was difficult for observers to keep up with it all.
As the media breathlessly (and often inaccurately) reported on the virus, concern amongst the American people about the virus, and the response by many governors, spread. Stores began to run low on food and supplies, with America’s newfound shortage of toilet paper becoming a national topic of discussion. Big city mayors, sheriffs, and police chiefs—prodded by anti-incarceration activists—announced plans to reduce arrests and even free some inmates from jails and prisons, measures they claimed were necessary to curtail the virus’s spread.
Whatever else Americans believed about what they were seeing and hearing on their radios, televisions, and computer screens, they understood it was time to take proactive measures to protect themselves and their loved ones.
During middle and late March, firearm and ammunition sales soared to record levels, driven largely by first-time buyers and those who admitted in news reports that, despite prior political aversion to guns, they now understood the need for a prudent safeguard against the unknown.
Americans themselves, in other words, reached a consensus across political and cultural divides that the ability to obtain firearms and ammunition is, in fact, essential.
So many people were buying firearms that the FBI’s National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) and points of contact for NICS operated by the states became mired in backlogs, with systems periodically crashing and becoming unavailable. This underscored how when the system is stressed, background checks, licensing and private sales prohibitions can all lead to de facto sales bans.
Meanwhile, new gun buyers unacquainted with the bureaucracy of retail firearm sales were shocked to discover that—despite Barack Obama’s past assertions—it really is harder to buy a gun than a fresh vegetable, even in an emergency.
Gun-control activists, of course, reacted to the run on gun stores with horror, and many abandoned the “moderate” pose they normally (and unconvincingly) try to portray. Some even suggested that buying a gun is more dangerous than the virus itself. A writer for Salon insisted, “Bringing a gun into your home is stupid” and is “the last thing anyone should be doing in this crisis, if they want to stay safe.”
This same aversion to the widespread embrace of the Second Amendment was shared by a number of anti-gun local officials, who began campaigns to close gun shops as “non-essential” businesses during the crisis. Some blamed the supposed dangers—not of contamination—but of “first-time gun buyers.”
Then the governors of a handful of states upped the ante, banning sales of guns in their respective jurisdictions statewide.
Other governors, however, explicitly announced that gun sales would be considered essential and could continue, in some cases with measures designed to mitigate unnecessary person-to-person contact. An under-reported part of this story was that some of these decisions (especially in normally anti-gun states) were no doubt prompted by laws the NRA helped pass after the Katrina debacle to limit infringements on the Second Amendment during declared emergencies.
Throughout these developments, your NRA has kept its members informed of every late-breaking story, often in real time. We even launched a new website—nraila.org/coronavirus—to update gun owners on developments in their own jurisdictions. The site features an interactive map and state-specific information from across the country.
In the meantime, the Trump Administration backed the citizenry’s right to arms by issuing guidance to the states via the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) classifying firearm retailers as part of America’s essential emergency infrastructure. This was crucial, as some officials who were banning gun sales had cited a lack of clarity from DHS on the matter.
The NRA and others also filed or threatened lawsuits challenging gun store closure orders, including in California, Delaware, New Jersey, New Mexico and New York.
These efforts caused even some of America’s most anti-gun politicians to change course, with the governors of Delaware, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and the sheriffs of Los Angeles County and Wake County, N.C., all reversing earlier decisions to infringe their constituents’ right to obtain firearms.
But the endgame for Michael Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety—America’s most well-funded firearm prohibition organization—was unmasked (so to speak) when its lawyers released a March 31 memo to encourage the outright banning of gun sales to law-abiding people, en masse.
And it may have worked in a couple of cases. After the memo’s release, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker reversed his prior determination that gun stores are essential and ordered them to close statewide.
Andrew Cuomo, perhaps the most anti-gun governor in America, also joined the gun prohibition cause. Cuomo, like a few other anti-gun governors, focused on restricting the rights of law-abiding Americans, while releasing those accused or convicted of actually breaking the law. Unsurprisingly, some of the released individuals didn’t only ignore rules regarding social distancing, they also returned to the same path of crime that led to their incarceration in the first place.
In one particularly terrible example in New York, a criminal released by Governor Cuomo violently assaulted and robbed a 62-year-old man. Yet Cuomo seemed more interested in generating headlines with his gun ban than protecting the people of New York.
Cuomo reacted to the NRA’s challenge to his unconstitutional sales ban by bragging that he is “immune to NRA lawsuits.” He may have been encouraged by the deference emergency sales bans have received so far in lower courts.
But will the higher courts or the U.S. Supreme Court itself—with its two Trump appointees—prove to be the antidote to the attacks being launched against the Second Amendment under the cover of COVID-19?
Time will tell.
Rest assured, however, that whatever the future holds for America during these extraordinary times, your NRA will be fighting every day to ensure you and your essential liberties remain healthy and secure.