As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps across the country, millions of Americans now live in states where shutdown orders effectively have stripped them of the ability to buy firearms.
Although most states rightly have allowed gun stores to continue operating, a minority deemed them “nonessential businesses” that must close.
Unfortunately, these ordered closures generally have occurred in states where the only way to legally acquire firearms or ammunition is through one of these now-closed stores. People who didn’t already possess firearms now have no means of exercising their fundamental right to keep and bear arms.
This designation of “nonessential” for stores that serve as the critical lifeline for the exercise of fundamental rights is not just of questionable constitutionality, but it comes at precisely the worst time.
Several major police departments have been decimated by COVID-19, with Detroit recently announcing that 20% of its entire police force is in self-quarantine. New York City’s police commissioner said that an unprecedented 5,000 officers called in sick on a single day at the end of March.
As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention noted in a 2013 report, nearly every major study on defensive gun uses has found that Americans use their firearms in self-defense between 500,000 and 3 million times a year.
In times when law enforcement resources already are stretched thin, it’s even more likely that people will find themselves in situations where the government can’t or won’t protect them.
Here are just some of the many times last month when Americans relied on their Second Amendment rights to safeguard their lives and livelihoods, proving just how essential it is that Americans remain able to exercise those rights:
- March 1, Makakilo, Hawaii: Local police said a man broke into a residence only to be confronted by the armed homeowner, who held the intruder at gunpoint until police arrived nearly 30 minutes later.
- March 1, Leesburg, Florida: A concealed carry permit holder used his firearm to stop a man who was violently assaulting other customers at a convenience store. The permit holder held the attacker at gunpoint until law enforcement arrived to arrest him. The attacker was charged with several serious offenses, including aggravated battery causing bodily and violation of probation, in relation to a previous battery conviction.
- March 4, Jacksonville, Florida: When a man heard a neighbor screaming for help, he grabbed his firearm and ran to her aid. Once outside, he realized the neighbor’s house was ablaze, and used his voice to help get the neighbor out of her house. It quickly became apparent that the neighbor’s adult son intentionally had set the house on fire. The good Samaritan used his firearm to detain the son at the scene until police could take him into custody.
- March 8, Brea, California: A homeowner shot and wounded an intruder during an attempted break-in, police said.
- March 12, Troy, Alabama: A burglar was shot and wounded by a homeowner. Although the burglar initially fled, he was quickly arrested; the stolen items were returned to the homeowner. The burglar, taken to a hospital for treatment, was charged with felony burglary.
- March 14, Harris County, Texas: A 53-year-old disabled woman was alone in her apartment when two teens broke a window and reached inside to unlock the door, police said. At least one was armed with a handgun. The woman fired one round at the intruders, striking and killing the armed teen. The other teen fled, but later was arrested along with a third suspect accused of acting as a getaway driver. Police said they linked the getaway vehicle to other crimes in the area.
- March 18, Charlotte, North Carolina: Five men attempted to rob a woman as she sat in her car getting cash from an ATM. The woman shot one of the men, wounding him and sending the others fleeing. Police arrested the wounded man after he called 911 for assistance.
- March 24, Indianapolis, Indiana: Two residents awoke at 3 a.m. to the sounds of someone trying to break in through a rear entrance. One resident was armed and opened fire on the intruder, killing him.
- March 27, Tulsa, Oklahoma: A concealed carry permit holder stopped an attempted mass shooting in a Walmart parking lot. A woman who had left the store after an altercation with other shoppers returned about three minutes later, pulled a gun, and opened fire indiscriminately, police said. The permit holder drew his firearm and fatally shot the woman before she could harm anyone. Unbelievably, several media outlets continued to refer to the would-be mass shooter as the “victim” and to the hero as the “suspect” long after law enforcement clarified what had occurred.
- March 28, Columbus, Ohio: A woman whose home had been burglarized earlier in the day was forced to rely on her Second Amendment rights when the burglars returned later that night. Two men broke in and entered her kitchen, at which point the woman fired several shots, striking one and causing both to flee, police said.
- March 31, Deltona, Florida: A mother of three called 911 to report that a man was breaking into her house, telling the dispatcher, “I don’t want to shoot him, but I’m going to have to!” The woman could be heard yelling, “Get out of my window! Get out of my window!” after the man shattered a front window and began climbing into the house. Police said the woman fired one round, wounding him, then ran into the backyard with her children. Police found the wounded burglar inside the house when they arrived; they charged him with four counts of burglary of an occupied dwelling.
As these examples show, the fundamental right to keep and bear arms continues to play an important role in maintaining “the security of a free state.”
When governors, sheriffs, and mayors deem gun stores “nonessential” and effectively prohibit unarmed Americans from exercising their Second Amendment rights for the first time, they do a great disservice to the Constitution and to public safety.
Just as the ability to access food is rarely more essential than in times of hunger and scarcity, the ability of Americans to obtain firearms and exercise their Second Amendment rights is rarely more essential than in times of chaos and crisis.
The good news is that most states have recognized this and refuse to put a moratorium on new exercises of Second Amendment rights. The small minority of states would do well to follow this example.