Employees of gun stores and gun manufacturers should be seen as “essential” workers, according to a memo from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security published on Saturday.
The memo from Christopher Krebs, director of DHS’ Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, is intended to help local governments gauge which industries are critical to public health and safety in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. It suggests that a wide range of firearm-related employees should be viewed as essential, including “workers supporting the operation of firearm or ammunition product manufacturers, retailers, importers, distributors, and shooting ranges.”
Krbes stresses that the list of “Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce” employees does not compel states to change their definitions of essential industries.
“This list is advisory in nature. It is not, nor should it be considered, a federal directive or standard,” Krebs writes. “Individual jurisdictions should add or subtract essential workforce categories based on their own requirements and discretion.”
Governors of several states have closed gun shops and dealers as part of their orders shuttering “non-essential” businesses to the public in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, drawing the ire and legal firepower of gun rights groups. Other states, like Connecticut, Ohio and Illinois have explicitly included gun dealers in their lists of essential industries.
Gun stores, gun rights groups or gun enthusiasts in at least New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Colorado and California have filed lawsuits challenging pandemic-related restrictions to the gun trade.
Darrell Miller is a professor at Duke University School of Law. The state of North Carolina is among those that are allowing gun shops to remain open, as long as they adhere to social distancing guidelines. He says the nod to the firearms industry in the DHS guidelines could lend support to lawsuits filed in other states:
“It provides this kind of rhetorical force in that lawsuit to say to the state, ‘The federal government thinks it’s really important to have the firearms industry humming along, why doesn’t the state?’” explained Miller.
Miller says that for governors looking to deem those in the firearms industry “essential,” Sunday’s memo will serve as confirmation. But those that aren’t leaning that way, according to Miller, will likely not be swayed by it.
Lisa Dunn contributed to this reporting.
Updated March 29, 2020, 1:32 p.m: This story has been updated to include further reporting.
Guns & America is a public media reporting project on the role of guns in American life.