Massachusetts gun shop stays open, insisting they are an essential business

If you’re the governor of a state and you issue an order for all nonessential businesses to close during the pandemic, what do you do when business owners answer you with a hard nope and just stay open anyway? That’s a question that Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker is wrestling with this month. The Governor declared that gun shops were nonessential (though strangely, gun manufacturers were deemed essential), but at The Gunrunner in Middleboro, the owner disagrees and has remained open since the order went into effect. And at least thus far, the proprietor, John Costa, says that nobody has done anything about it. (CBS Boston)

John Costa, owner of the Gunrunner in Middleboro, disagrees with Gov. Charlie Baker’s order deeming his firearms store non-essential. Costa says he has a right to remain open during the coronavirus pandemic.

“OK, under the second amendment we have every right to defend ourselves,” Costa told WBZ-TV.

Costa said his sales have been up since coronavirus started spreading around the country several weeks ago.

“This is totally way off the walls. I mean, yes business is very very good,” said Costa.

Costa apparently isn’t the only gun shop owner refusing to close, but he’s the one who has been making headlines since the middle of the week. A quick check on the store’s Facebook page shows that he’s not open on Palm Sunday or Monday, but plans to reopen for normal business hours on Tuesday.

It certainly sounds as if Costa has seriously modified his normal business practices to keep people safe during the pandemic. Customers are not allowed inside of the store these days. Instead, the owner comes out to meet them on the sidewalk and asks what model of firearm or other products they are interested in. He then brings the item(s) out so the buyer can examine them and proceeds with the normal background checks and paperwork from that point. He’s sterilizing everything and providing hand sanitizer for the customers to use.

But even with all of those precautions in place, Mr. Costa is still violating the executive order to shut down. And now that his story has been featured in all the typical news outlets, Governor Baker has to be pondering his choices. If he simply ignores the situation, it makes him look weak and ineffective. But if he sends in some muscle to lock the gun shop down he’ll risk Second Amendment court challenges and the negative PR of driving a small business owner out of the market.

His other option would be to reverse course and declare gun shops to be essential businesses as other governors, such as in Pennsylvania and New Jersey have done. This would be in accordance with federal guidelines issued earlier this week, so he could blame it on the feds and avoid a messy, public fight with Mr. Costa. But at least thus far, Baker is laying low and appears content to simply ignore the matter.

Of course, if Baker continues to allow The Gunrunner to keep operating in defiance of the executive order, the rest of the gun shops in the state will probably start thinking of following suit. John Costa is reporting “totally off the wall” sales recently. The fact that some of his competitors have closed their shops is probably contributing to the high volume of traffic he’s seeing. Those other shops have got to be wondering why they’re missing out on these booming sales while Costa is allowed to cash in. And if this continues, I’d expect we’ll see more of them opening up as well.

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