County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher during press conference where he urged closing of retail gun shops as nonessential.
County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher during press conference where he urged closing of retail gun shops as nonessential. Image via Facebook

A San Diego political action committee promoting Second Amendment rights has condemned county Supervisor Nathan Fletcher’s remark Sunday that retail gun shops are not essential businesses in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

At a coronavirus press briefing, Fletcher said: “We consulted with our county counsel. It is not our belief that gun stores are essential businesses based on the governor’s executive order and, so, therefore, they should not be open in the county of San Diego.”

In response, the executive director of the PAC — San Diego County Gun Owners — labeled as “ludicrous” Fletcher’s “rhetoric.”

“Gun shops are absolutely deemed essential and protected by the federal government according to official statements by the Department of Homeland Security,” said the director, Michael Schwartz, whose 5-year-old group claims 1,800 members.

Fletcher has threatened to impose a $1,000 fine and jail time for gun shop retailers who stay remain open, the PAC said.

But Fletcher’s office Monday said no $1,000 fine or jail has been threatened and was mystified why the PAC would allege that.

“I’m not sure where than comes from,” said a Fletcher spokesman. “And he did not say anything like that. That’s inflammatory and false. … They’re playing a little fast and loose with the facts.”

Fletcher was hoping that nonessential businesses — as specified by the governor’s office — would voluntarily “adhere to the order … in an effort to protect public health,” the spokesman said.

Schwartz said weapons and munitions are among 16 sectors on the Department of Homeland Security’s “List of Critical Infrastructure” under the “Defense Industrial Base Sector” category.

“As suppliers of arms, ammunition, materiel and services to local, state and federal agencies and the United States military, gun shops are federally designated as an essential business during the COVID-19 crisis,” he said. “This means gun shops are federally protected.”

Calling gun shops “clearly essential businesses, especially during a time of crisis,” he said they must remain open.

“Gun shop owners should not allow intimidation or bullying,” Schwartz said in a statement. There is no legal authority to shut down your business in a time of crisis.”

Schwartz noted the spike in gun sales and ammunition fueled by the “need for self-defense” during the pandemic.

Federal gun background checks are up 300 percent compared to the same time a year ago, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the federal background check system.

“Gun sales have been surging across the country as coronavirus social distancing protocols have cost people their ability to make a living and purchase essential items, such as food,” Schwartz said.

“As we’ve seen in the past with other national events, Americans are serious about providing for their safety and security. Depending on how long this emergency continues, many Americans may find themselves facing situations where they will need to be their own first responders.”

Officials in some cities, counties and states have ordered the firearms trade to close citing the coronavirus “shelter-in-place” lockdowns, including California Gov. Gavin Newsom, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy and San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo.

Meanwhile, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and others included firearms and ammunition suppliers on their list of “essential businesses and operations” to remain open, said the San Diego group.

“Thousands of San Diegans purchased firearms in recent weeks, and hundreds of thousands of gun owners across the country want to buy ammunition or need a gun smith,” Schwartz said. “We are asking Supervisor Nathan Fletcher to stop his inflammatory rhetoric and concentrate on the business of running the county.”

Updated at 4:01 p.m. March 23, 2020