Wilde Built Tactical, a La Mesa gun shop on Lake Murray Boulevard, is closed buy displays a note saying it can open by appointment. Photo by Ken Stone
Wilde Built Tactical, a La Mesa gun shop on Lake Murray Boulevard, is closed but displays a note saying it can open by appointment. Photo by Ken Stone

Gun stores can remain open for business in San Diego County during the coronavirus crisis — subject to restrictions — despite California’s far-reaching limits on retail operations amid the pandemic, Sheriff Bill Gore said Thursday.

On Wednesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom decided that he would defer to the state’s sheriffs “on whether gun stores are essential businesses that should remain open under his (COVID-19-related) executive order,” Gore announced in a prepared statement released Thursday afternoon.

The governor’s set of mandates regarding the pandemic, issued last Thursday, did not designate gun shops as among such “critical infrastructure sectors” as food vendors, gas stations, pharmacies, banks and laundromats. The omission prompted Gore to seek further guidance from Newsom on the issue.

Sheriff Bill Gore’s statement on gun shops. (PDF)

“Licensed firearm retailers provide a valuable public-safety service by performing background checks on guns and on ammunition,” Gore said. “In doing this, there is assurance that those who cannot legally possess firearms are not allowed to purchase them and that waiting periods are complied with.”

Law enforcement officials “need to ensure that we do not create further public-safety risks by driving lawful sales of firearms to an underground or off-the-books black market during these difficult times,” the sheriff asserted.

“That said, we must balance that need with the need to preserve public health through enforcement of the governor’s executive order and the county of San Diego (coronavirus-related) public-health order,” which set out social-distance rules and prohibit gatherings of 10 or more people, Gore stated.

“In order to comply with (the mandates), I am asking all retail firearms establishments to look at alternative sales options, which might include scheduling appointments,” he said.

The sheriff called on local residents interested in buying guns and ammunition during the ongoing public-health crisis to do so only through federally licensed dealers while strictly observing the government dictates.

Letter posted on Wilde Built Tactical shop in La Mesa. Photos by Ken Stone

“Voluntary compliance and self-regulation are essential to limiting the spread of COVID-19 in our community,” Gore said. “Where law enforcement can gain compliance and cooperation, we will. Where that is not the case, we will employ additional enforcement options as necessary in order to gain compliance and protect public health and safety.”

Gore’s decision comes in the wake of harsh criticism of county Supervisor Nathan Fletcher by a local gun-rights group.

Michael Schwartz, leader of the 1,800-member San Diego County Gun Owners scorched Fletcher for saying gun shops are a nonessential business amid the coronavirus pandemic.

At least one La Mesa gun store anticipated the new rules.

Wilde Built Tactical on Lake Murray Boulevard, a small shop near a U.S. Post Office annex, posted a sign that said it would be open by appointment.

On its website, the operators added: “You can still purchase a firearm via our website. We are backed up. There will be delays, but the faster you place an order, the faster we can get you in for the DROS.”

“We completely understand the need for a firearm at this point in time. We are doing everything in our power to fulfill all orders as fast as possible, but please understand our order volume has gone up well over 1000%. We will work tirelessly to ensure you can defend your family should the need arise, but understand we also have families and are going through much of the same stress you are. Please be patient with us!”

— City News Service contributed to this report