Alaska’s Republican-led Legislature has approved legislation that would prohibit local and state officials from singling out firearm and ammunition retailers when shutting businesses during a declared emergency.
House Bill 61 states that firearm businesses can’t be forced to close, shorten their business hours, limit their sales, or hand over merchandise during a declared state of emergency unless the government equally does the same to all other businesses.
The measure now heads to the desk of Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy to be signed into law.
The Senate version of the legislation initially included language that would allow the government to shut down gun stores while still keeping certain businesses such as grocery stores, pharmacies, clinics and hospitals, and hotels and motels open during an emergency declaration. This language was removed with an amendment by state Sen. Bill Wielechowski, a Democrat representing East Anchorage.
According to Wielechowski, firearm and ammunition stores are just as important as, if not more important than, grocery stores for Alaskans, who rely on hunting as a way of life and sustenance.
“The reality is that, for many people in rural Alaska, going to ammo shop is essentially going for subsistence hunt and provide for their families.
Decision by Court of AppealsWielechowski also said House Bill 61 would keep Alaska in line with a 2022 decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. In that decision, a panel of three circuit judges unanimously ruled that it’s unconstitutional for governments to use public health emergencies as an excuse to prevent people from buying guns or visiting shooting ranges.
The 9th Circuit’s ruling overturned that of a California district judge, who in 2020 dismissed the challenge to a wide range of anti-gun policies in California’s Ventura County, including forcing gun shops to close, prohibiting people who already owned firearms from visiting shooting ranges, and pausing new applications to carry permits.
The county enacted all these restrictions in the name of curbing the spread of the COVID-19 virus, although it failed to provide any evidence that gun shops and firing ranges pose a greater risk of COVID-19 transmission than other “essential” businesses.
Anchorage was also placed under similar restrictions in the spring of 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic. The city’s then-Democrat mayor, Ethan Berkowitz, ordered gun stores to be closed while allowing businesses that his administration had deemed critical, including marijuana and liquor shops, to stay open.
‘Times of Chaos, Uncertainty, and Emergency’The National Rifle Association (NRA) endorsed House Bill 61, saying that the measure “provides a thoughtful and effective approach to balance Second Amendment rights and local control.”
“When a firearms store is forced to close, when ammunition is not allowed to be sold, when gun ranges are shut down, and concealed carry permits are not issued, an individual’s ability to keep and bear arms is infringed, and could be rendered impossible,” the NRA wrote in a letter of support to the Alaska Senate Judiciary Committee.
“At the core of the Second Amendment is the right to self-defense. The importance of this right is elevated in times of chaos, uncertainty, and emergency.
“Alaskans must be able to access firearms, ammunition, shooting ranges, and other essential firearms-related businesses during times of emergency.”
Alaska Gun Rights, an Anchorage-based advocacy group, opposed the bill, arguing that governments shouldn’t be granted the power to shut down any business in the first place.
“What started as a 2nd Amendment protection bill became an equity in commerce bill. But with newly created powers to shut down businesses, it becomes an equity in tyranny bill,” the group wrote in a blog post. “This bill is on course to steal more of your freedoms and liberties.”