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Statute precludes gun range closing under COVID-19 order

Virginia Lawyers Weekly//May 14, 2020

Statute precludes gun range closing under COVID-19 order

Virginia Lawyers Weekly//May 14, 2020

Where the governor’s executive order, issued under Code § 44-146.17 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, ordered the closure of indoor gun ranges, the power to do so is limited by § 44-146.15(3), which provides that the governor’s emergency powers cannot be used to limit the right to keep and bear arms under U.S. and Virginia constitutions.

Plaintiff, an indoor shooting range, is entitled to injunctive relief.

The executive order at issue closed schools, churches, restaurants and recreational/entertainment businesses. An extension of the order which defined the closed recreational and entertainment business, listed indoor shooting ranges.

Virginia’s constitution provides that “‘a well-regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained to arms, is the proper, natural, and safe defense of a free state, therefore, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.’

“The operative clause provides the right to keep and bear arms, and the prefatory clause provides that the purpose of the right is to have a population trained with firearms in order to defend the Commonwealth.”

When the current constitution was adopted in 1971, “Black’s Law Dictionary defined ‘bear arms’ as including ‘the right to load and shoot them, and to use them as such things are generally used.’ …

“Loading and shooting correlates with the desired training specifically referenced in the prefatory clause. Gun ranges provide a venue for such training to occur; thus, ‘bear arms’ includes loading and shooting at a gun range.”

The court acknowledges the “immense pressure and responsibility” of the governor to reduce the spread of COVID-19. But plaintiff says it will conform to “social distancing” practices and “the executive order limiting the range to ten patrons at a time.”

Other evidence, such as dividers between the shooters, ventilation and HEPA filtration “leads the Court to conclude that the balance of the equities favors granting the temporary injunction.”

Lynchburg Range and Training v. Northam, et al., Case No. CL20000333. April 27, 2020; Lynchburg Cir. Ct. (Yeatts). David G. Brown, Toby J. Heytens for the parties. VLW 020-8-045, 6 pp.

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