‘The governor appears to argue that, when he declares a state of emergency, he can ignore any law … even laws designed to limit his power during a state of emergency…’
Despite having faced massive protests over his gun proposals in January and February, he used the occasion of the coronavirus pandemic to sign a portion of his radical gun-control into law while gun-rights demonstrators would have been prohibited from gathering.
State Democrats already had sought in January to prohibit gun ranges—a move seen as a slap to the National Rifle Association, which is headquartered in Fairfax County and maintains a 15-booth shooting range at the facility.
Failing to get traction on that job-killing measure, though, Northam was quick to shutter gun-range facilities as part of his shelter-in-place orders.
On Friday, he lost again when a Lynchburg Circuit Court checked his latest Second Amendment overreach.
The court ruling stated that proper firearm training and practice at a range is “fundamental” to the right to keep and bear arms.
“The governor appears to argue that, when he declares a state of emergency, he can ignore any law that limits his power, even laws designed to limit his power during a state of emergency,” wrote Judge Frank Patrick Yeatts.
“The court cannot agree with such an expansive interpretation of the governor’s authority,” he said.
A gun-rights group called the Virginia Citizens Defense League brought the case on behalf of SafeSide Tactical, a Lynchburg indoor shooting range.
The group argued that Northam’s mandatory closure violated the state constitution, which incorporates the federal constitutional right to bear arms. Accordingly, Northam had no authority to infringe on the protected rights of Virginians even under a state of emergency.
The state attorney general’s office, led by AG Mark Herring, responded by saying that shooting ranges are separate from the Second Amendment and the closures were a matter of public safety. But the judge had no patience for the state’s justification.
After the embarrassing loss, Herring, another controversial Virginia Democrat, fired-off an angry statement.
“Governor Northam’s efforts to save lives and slow the spread of COVID-19 are necessary and proving to be effective, but unfortunately, the gun lobby believes the ability to shoot a gun indoors during this pandemic is worth risking further spread of the virus and making Virginia communities and families less safe,” said Herring.
Contrary to Herring’s media statement, the Citizens Defense League’s lawsuit asked the court to allow shooting ranges to reopen as long as they maintain social distancing and limit patrons to 10 or fewer, as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A lawyer for the gun-rights group said, “We’re not seeking to permit indoor ranges to engage in business in a matter that creates any more risk of transmission than operating an electronic store or a liquor store or a Walmart.”
While the ruling was limited to SafeSide Tactical, it opens the door for other gun ranges to sue the Northam administration.
In addition to Second Amendment advocacy, some First Amendment groups also have fought back against Virginia’s order.
A small church on remote Chincoteague Island filed a religious-freedom suit after its service of 16 members, all of whom were practicing safe social-distancing, was forcibly shut down during pre-Easter services.
Northam was forced to issue a firm denial last week after rumors circulated on social media that he had been riding out the quarantine at his second home, a vacation property on North Carolina’s Outer Banks.
He said photos showing vehicles parked at his beach house in the posh Pirate’s Cove resort community were likely neighbors who had permission to park there.
“These rumors are absolutely false. Gov. Northam has been working on behalf of Virginians seven days a week and has not left the Commonwealth since the stay-home order went into place,” said a statement.
” Anything else is a lie,” it continued. “People spread lies all the time for political gain, and they should be ashamed of themselves.”
Liberty Headlines’ Ben Sellers contributed to this report.