LOS ANGELES — For the second time this week, Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva has ordered gun shops to close, a move that challenges the county legal counsel’s finding that the stores are essential businesses that should remain open during the coronavirus crisis.
Los Angeles County, the nation’s most populous with 10 million residents, enacted a stay-at-home order last week that required all nonessential businesses to close to slow the spread of the virus.
On Tuesday, Villanueva ordered the shops closed. Panic-buying that produced long lines at the shops was worrisome from a public safety standpoint, he said.
Soon after that, the county counsel and the health department said the shops are among those considered essential under the county’s stay-at-home order that closed many businesses and urged all residents to stay home as much as possible.
On Wednesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom was asked during a news conference if he believes gun shops are essential. He demurred, saying it was up to sheriffs to determine that in their jurisdictions.
In issuing his closure order Thursday, Villanueva cited the governor’s executive order on statewide closures during the crisis as stipulating gun stores are not essential. However, the order does not explicitly mention those businesses.
Villanuneva said the shops may no longer sell to the general public but may still supply security guard companies. Anyone who already already has purchased a gun and possess a valid safety certificate can pick up their firearms, he said in a statement.
County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said while she personally thinks gun stores are not essential businesses, the conflicting findings by Villanueva and the county likely need to get sorted out by a judge.
“Let them go to court about it,” she said.
The closure only applies to the county’s unincorporated areas and 42 cities that contract with the sheriff’s department for law enforcement. The city of Los Angeles has not joined Villanueva in closing its shops.
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