States all over America are mandating that nonessential businesses close, which is forcing lawmakers to decide which businesses should be deemed “essential.” In states such as New York and Massachusetts, gun stores already have been told to close their doors. In Texas, on the other hand, the attorney general has said gun stores may remain open during the pandemic.
Cam Edwards, editor of the news and information site Bearing Arms, joins The Daily Signal podcast to explain why gun shops should be considered essential businesses and how the coronavirus has affected firearms sales.
Plus: We share an interview with Maj Toure, founder of Black Guns Matter, who explains the mission of his organization and how communities can combat gun violence without restricting Second Amendment rights.
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript.
Virginia Allen: I am joined by Cam Edwards, the editor of Bearingarms.com. Cam, thanks so much for joining me.
Cam Edwards: Oh, thanks so much, Virginia. I really appreciate it.
Allen: Now, you are super passionate about the Second Amendment, and right now, we’re obviously seeing a lot of debate over whether or not gun shops should be allowed to stay open during the coronavirus pandemic.
We’re going to get a little bit more into talking about what states are doing and the nitty-gritty of all that in a moment. But I want it to begin just by asking you how, historically, have crisis situations affected gun sales?
Edwards: It’s great question. We really are in uncharted territory right now. We’ve never really gone through anything like this, at least for a hundred years or more in the United States, but … you can go back to 2005 and Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.
What we saw after Hurricane Katrina on the ground were police officers going door to door confiscating legally-owned firearms in the name of public safety.
As a result of that, the National Rifle Association went state by state, and in about a half of the states around the country, they were able to get emergency powers legislation on the books that prevents governors from infringing on the right to keep and bear arms during the state of emergency.
That’s been a huge help and a big protection for gun owners around the country right now. But unfortunately, we’ve seen in states like New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, California, Washington state, and a handful of others, governors have either left it up to counties to decide whether or not gun stores are essential businesses or they simply ordered these stores to close.
Allen: Interesting. Did we see an increase in sales at the beginning of March?
Edwards: Well, we did. Absolutely. Yeah. The FBI released the NICS background check numbers—the National Instant [Criminal Background] Check System numbers—on Wednesday of this week, and it’s a new record. More than 3.7 million background checks were conducted.
Now, not all of those were for gun sales. Some states will check firearm ID cards every day.
But the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which is the firearms manufacturers trade association, they’re able to look at these numbers and decipher, “This was for a gun sale, this was for an ID check.” And what they say is that about 2.5 million firearm background checks were conducted during the month of March. That, again, would be a new record.
What we’re hearing anecdotally from gun stores around the country is that, in many stores, at least half of their customers are new gun owners. Not … people who’ve never owned a firearm in their life, [but] people who don’t currently own a firearm now, but they’re concerned about what the future might hold, and so they are becoming gun owners in the past month.
Allen: Yeah, yeah. No, I know. A lot of people are … concerned where we are. Like you say, these are unprecedented times, and people want to make sure that they have the means to defend themselves and their loved ones.
But like you said, we’re seeing mixed messages from different states. You have states like Texas who are saying, “Absolutely, we’re going to make sure that our gun shops stay open and that Second Amendment rights are protected.” Like you said, very different story in places like New York and Massachusetts.
How is it that states can just kind of pick and choose? Shouldn’t it be across the board they’re allowed to stay open because it’s kind of part of the Second Amendment rights?
Edwards: It’s a great question. I think it comes down to what we’re seeing really around the country and that the Ninth and 10th Amendments are implicated here, not just the Second Amendment. We don’t have a federal lockdown that’s been put in place. President [Donald] Trump is saying, “I’m leaving a lot of this up to the states. The states are the ones that have the authority to do this.”
Under emergency declarations, governors do have broad leeway to do all kinds of things in the name of the public health. What they don’t have the right to do, in my opinion, is to circumvent or infringe on individuals’ constitutional rights.
Even in the state of Virginia, for example, where Gov. [Ralph] Northam has limited public and private gatherings to no more than 10 people, that doesn’t shut down, let’s say, church services. Churches can still offer their services online. If they have the space available, they could put nine people in a Sunday school classroom and nine people in the next one.
They’re allowed to regulate. They’re allowed to try to mitigate the spread of this disease, but they’re not allowed to simply prevent people from exercising their constitutional rights. Your rights don’t disappear during a state of emergency.
And, thankfully, Virginia, what we’re now seeing is a number of Second Amendment organizations are filing lawsuits. They’re taking these cases to court, and we have already seen a number of governors back down in the face of these legal challenges and allow gun stores to reopen.
Allen: Yeah. That’s happened in New York, correct? Gov. [Andrew] Cuomo is being sued.
Edwards: He is being sued. He has not backed down as of yet. But Pennsylvania, we saw that with Gov. Tom Wolf, in New Jersey, Gov. Phil Murphy.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva also reversed course. Now we have a lawsuit that’s just been filed in Northern California against eight separate jurisdictions in the Bay Area. Hopefully, we’ll see those jurisdictions back down as well.
But we saw on Thursday, Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker had reopened gun stores for about an hour before his office then suddenly changed its mind and declared them nonessential again.
We’ve seen a lot of success. Unfortunately, it’s been unprecedented 100% success. I suspect that some of these anti-gun governors are going to try to continue to prevent people from acquiring a firearm and ammunition so that they can exercise their Second Amendment rights during this national emergency.
Allen: Yeah. In your opinion, why should gun shops be deemed as essential businesses?
Edwards: I think, again, just look at the number of guns that were sold last month and the number of Americans who went out to purchase a firearm. It is clear that Americans are concerned about their future …
Gun control advocates, their snarky response to this is, “Well, you can’t shoot a virus.” Well, we know this. That’s not why we’re buying firearms. I’m sheltering in place. I’ve put my a home on lockdown. I have a wife who has a compromised immune system. That’s what I’m doing to protect her from the coronavirus.
But I also own firearms because in case somebody were to try to violate these social distancing norms and break into my house and try to get within 6 feet of me, I’m prepared to defend myself and my family. There are a lot of Americans who really are concerned about that.
Look, we have 10 million people over the past two weeks that have all of a sudden lost their jobs. They’re filing for unemployment. We have a stimulus package that will hopefully get these folks the money that they need to survive over the next couple of months, but these are really unprecedented and unparalleled times. It is not unreasonable for people to be concerned about the fraying of the social fabric and an increase in violent crime.
… I think it’s human nature to want to protect yourself and the people that you love in times of uncertainty, and so for that reason, alongside the fact that the Constitution specifically points out that the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed, in my mind, makes it an easy call that, yes, these gun stores are essential, not only to the personal safety of Americans, but frankly, at this moment in time to their peace of mind as well.
Allen: Yeah. What would you say to the other side of the argument that individuals who are worried that this surge in gun sales in such a time of crisis could actually lead to more violence?
Edwards: I would tell them to put their money where their mouth is. I mean, these are groups that build themselves as gun safety organizations, and yet, they are doing nothing to ensure that any of these new gun owners have basic gun safety advice and training. A lot of these folks can’t get to a range right now.
But it’s been groups like the National Rifle Association, the U.S. Concealed Carry Association, National Shooting Sports Foundation, as well as individuals who have really done a great job of putting these resources out online so that if you are a new gun owner, you can’t get to the range, you can’t take your basic pistol course or a concealed carry course, you can at least still get the knowledge of “here’s how I safely load my firearm, here’s how I unload my firearm, here’s how I store my firearm safely.”
That, to me, is the key. We know that Americans want to keep and bear arms, and more Americans than ever before are doing so. To try deny them their ability to keep and bear arms, I think it is completely unconstitutional and downright un-American.
I think the right thing to do is ensure that the folks who are new gun owners have that education and training that they need to be safe and responsible.
Allen: Yeah. For anyone who has recently purchased a firearm or is thinking about doing so, what are just a few of those tips that you can give us for correctly handling and safely handling a firearm?
Edwards: The big one is treat every gun that you own as if it is loaded at all times, even if you don’t have a magazine in your firearm, even if you haven’t loaded a bullet in your firearm, treat it as if it is loaded.
Always keep that muzzle pointed in a safe direction. Don’t point it at anything that you’re not prepared to shoot at. Make sure that you are aware of what is behind your target. Look, you never want to mix alcohol and firearms. You always want to be safe there.
These are some of the basic tips, but there’s also a fantastic resource online called Gun University. If you go in there, gununiversity.com, Ryan Cleckner, who’s a veteran, he’s a firearms attorney, he’s a firearms instructor, has a ton of videos there under [the] section Guns 101.
This is really devoted and designed for new gun owners. It won’t take you a lot of time. But if you’re sitting around the house, you got nothing to do, watch a couple of these videos over a half-hour or so and familiarize yourself with the firearm that you’ve just purchased.
Allen: That’s really helpful. Thank you. Tell us a little bit about your site, Bearingarms.com and what our listeners can find there.
Edwards: Sure, so Bearingarms.com, as the name suggests, is all about the Second Amendment.
We are covering a lot of the political and legal news as well as some of the cultural news where we’re talking a lot right now about the fact that it’s not just conservatives who are buying firearms—we have people on, really, the entirety of the political spectrum who are now becoming gun owners—and what this could mean to the gun control debate in the months and the years ahead.
We’re talking and updating the site constantly. We also have a program, Bearing Arms’ Cam & Co. That is a daily show that’s focused on Second Amendment news and information. You can find that on YouTube at Townhall Media. You can also find that on Apple Podcasts at Bearing Arms’ Cam & Co.
Allen: Great. Cam, thank you so much. We just really appreciate your time today.
Edwards: Absolutely, Virginia. Thanks so much for the invite.