Michael Schwartz is executive director of San Diego County Gun Owners PAC.
Michael Schwartz is executive director of San Diego County Gun Owners PAC. Image via LinkedIn.com

A San Diego political action committee supporting Second Amendment rights Tuesday applauded recent federal guidelines classifying gun shop retailers as essential businesses that should remain open amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

As firearm sales rise nationwide and in San Diego County, San Diego County Gun Owners praised the new guidelines issued Saturday by the Department of Homeland Security. Local jurisdictions have offered varying guidance on the matter.

But the guidelines from Christopher C. Krebs, director of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, were termed an “advisory list” and not a directive.

“State, local, tribal and territorial governments are responsible for implementing and executing response activities, including decisions about access and re-entry, in their communities, while the federal government is in a supporting role,” Krebs said. “Officials should use their own judgment in issuing implementation directives and guidance.”

San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore said last week that he would not shut down county gun stores, citing a concern that doing so would push consumers to buy guns on the black market.

Last week, Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva ordered all gun stores in unincorporated county areas to close, but reversed that order Monday “based on this further input from the federal government.”

SDCGO executive director Michael Schwartz said: “Despite what you might be hearing from over-reaching, power-hungry politicians, gun shops are protected by the federal government and are absolutely deemed essential. This virus pandemonium has uncovered politicians who will use a crisis as an opportunity to restrict Constitutional freedoms and threaten everyone’s Second Amendment civil rights. Law-abiding Americans must never be deprived of the right to defend themselves and their loved ones at any time.”

The group recently criticized San Diego County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, who said in a recent COVID-19 update to the public that firearm stores were not considered essential businesses that should remain open per the state’s stay-at-home order.

SDCGO called Fletcher’s statements “inflammatory rhetoric,” and said Fletcher’s “potentially dangerous statements were ludicrous and escalated an already tense situation unnecessarily with bad information.”

The national gun-safety group Brady United on Sunday blasted the National Rifle Association and National Sports Shooting Foundation for mischaracterizing the guidelines, saying such groups “have leveraged their influence with the Trump Administration, and exploited the current crisis to further the interests of gun manufacturers.”

In a statement, Brady President Kris Brown labeled such efforts a “contemptible and exploitative move by the gun lobby to put industry profits over public safety.”

“While DHS’ guidance is advisory, it is ill-conceived and dangerous,” Brown said. “State and local governments are well within their constitutional rights to broadly close businesses in order to prevent the spread and flatten the curve, and they are definitely not required to designate gun industry businesses as ‘essential’ and keep them open. There is no constitutional right to immediately buy or sell guns, and there is certainly no right to spread coronavirus while buying or selling guns.”

Meanwhile, the uptick in gun sales has drawn concerns of rising gun violence, particularly for those now confined to close quarters while quarantining at home.

The San Diego City Attorney’s Office urged families with guns in the home to practice proper firearm safety while self-quarantining to keep the weapons out of the hands of children.

The office cited San Diego’s Safe Storage of Firearms Ordinance, authored by City Attorney Mara Elliott, which requires city gun owners to store firearms in a locked container or to secure guns with a trigger lock unless they are in the immediate control of an authorized user.

Similar ordinances have also been enacted in Del Mar, Solana Beach and Encinitas.

The nonprofit group San Diegans for Gun Violence Prevention said in an online statement that local gun owners should keep in mind safe firearm storage ordinances enacted by several San Diego County municipalities as gun purchases rise during the pandemic.

“With more children at home from school and mounting anxiety over coronavirus, the risk of suicides, unintentional shootings and even homicides is greatly increased,” the organization said. “Citizens are turning to firearms as a way of protecting themselves, their families and their property in the coronavirus pandemic. We believe that reminding them of state and local laws about safe storage of firearms in the home could save lives, especially in the homes of first-time gun owners.”

Regarding the recent federal directive, San Diegans for Gun Violence Prevention said it thinks the decision was “irresponsible.”

“More guns in our communities, many in the hands of inexperienced users, have the potential to add patients with gunshot wounds to our already overstressed emergency rooms,” said the group.

— City News Service contributed to this report