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Gun Stores Remain Open Despite 'Non-Essential' Classification

A customer looks at guns inside AO Sword Firearms in El Cajon, March 23, 2020.
Matt Hoffman
A customer looks at guns inside AO Sword Firearms in El Cajon, March 23, 2020.

Gun stores in San Diego County are seeing record sales during the coronavirus outbreak, but county officials say the stores should not be open under Gov. Gavin Newsom's stay-at-home order. They say gun stores are not included in the list of "essential businesses."

"We consulted with our county counsel. It is not our belief that gun stores are essential businesses, and they should not be open in the county of San Diego," said County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher on Sunday.

Gun Stores Remain Open Despite ‘Non-Essential’ Classification
Listen to this story by Matt Hoffman.

Newsom's office also sent KPBS a list of essential businesses, and gun stores were not on it. But gun-rights advocates and gun store owners say they are essential.


"We have no plans to close," said David Chong, who owns AO Sword Firearms in El Cajon. "We have not heard any lawful order to shut down."

Last week, KPBS visited Chong, who said business was booming.

"About 10 times our normal sales," Chong said.

VIDEO: Gun Stores Aren't Considered Essential Businesses, But Some Are Still Open

RELATED: San Diego Gun Stores See Huge Uptick In Sales Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

Chong believes forcing gun stores to close violates the Second Amendment right to bear arms.


"We have to be very careful not to get into a ridiculous situation where we are sterilizing the Second Amendment by saying, 'Oh you can keep and bear arms but you can’t acquire any,'" Chong said.

"People are purchasing firearms because they’re in fear for their safety," said Michael Schwartz, executive director of the San Diego County Gun Owners. His PAC represents about two dozen gun stores in the county. "If you shut down that ability I think it’s a potentially dangerous situation."

Schwartz said gun stores are worried they could be shut down.

"They’re definitely being threatened and they want to make sure that they’re complying with the law, but also want to make sure that they are fulfilling the responsibility to the community and people that want to be safe and protect themselves," Schwartz said.

The state system to sell guns and conduct background checks is still working. But enforcing the "essential business" order is up to local jurisdictions.

"If gun shops are not in compliance we would like to know about it and have the appropriate law enforcement agency make contact," said San Diego County Supervisor Greg Cox.

For unincorporated areas of the county, the law enforcement agency would be the sheriff's department. In an emailed statement, a sheriff's spokesman wrote, "The Sheriff's Department would like to emphasize the importance to all to follow the public health orders and the executive order issued by Governor Newsom. Complying with these orders will save lives and shorten these public health measures."

Fletcher said officials are looking for the public's help in reporting non-essential businesses that are still open.

"We're asking for the public's cooperation and help in this endeavor," Fletcher said. "We shouldn't have to take first responders, who we count on to do their regular job, to enforce these orders."

AO Sword is in El Cajon and city mayor Bill Wells issued a statement saying in part, "In El Cajon, we would not cite or close a gun store or any store unless they were blatantly violating social distancing standards.”

AO Sword has implemented social distancing for their customers.

"We made provisions for them to stay six feet apart and we keep on enforcing that and explaining that for their safety," Chong said.

KPBS has created a public safety coverage policy to guide decisions on what stories we prioritize, as well as whose narratives we need to include to tell complete stories that best serve our audiences. This policy was shaped through months of training with the Poynter Institute and feedback from the community. You can read the full policy here.