Wolf quietly permits gun shops to reopen

The Associated Press
Rick Brubaker, center, and Jeff Rodemyer help a first-time gun buyer with his handgun selection at Bluestone Firearms in Lower Windsor Towship, Tuesday, March 17, 2020. 
John A. Pavoncello photo

HARRISBURG — Gov. Tom Wolf on Tuesday quietly allowed gun shops to reopen on a limited basis during the coronavirus pandemic after several justices of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court urged him to do so.

Firearms dealers may now sell their wares by individual appointment during limited hours as long as they comply with social distancing guidelines and take other measures to protect employees and customers from the coronavirus, the governor’s office said.

Wolf’s office did not announce the policy change. It was included on an updated list of businesses that are subject to his order to close their physical locations because they have been deemed “non-life-sustaining.”

The state Department of Health on Tuesday reported more than 200 new cases, with the total to date now exceeding 850. Case counts in Pennsylvania have been doubling every two or three days.

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Gun rights advocates hailed the decision to allow gun shops to reopen.

“I am extremely pleased that Governor Wolf has acknowledged that he may not eviscerated citizens’ inviolate rights, regardless of any states of emergency that may exist,” said Joshua Prince, who had filed suit on behalf of a gun shop and a would-be gun purchaser.

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court had narrowly dismissed Prince’s suit, which challenged Wolf’s authority to shutter businesses deemed “non-life-sustaining.”

But in a dissenting statement joined by two other justices, Justice David Wecht said Wolf’s order amounted to “an absolute and indefinite prohibition upon the acquisition of firearms by the citizens of this commonwealth — a result in clear tension with the Second Amendment” and the state constitution.

Wecht’s dissent had called on Wolf to make some allowance for the in-person sale of firearms.

“We developed the policy following review of the Supreme Court’s decision,” Wolf’s spokeswoman, Lindsay Kensinger, said Tuesday night.