Judge says Lynchburg indoor gun range can reopen despite COVID-19 closures

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LYNCHBURG, Va. (WDBJ7) — Apr. 27

A judge has granted an injunction, saying a Lynchburg gun range is exempt from Governor Ralph Northam's Executive Order 53, which mandated the closure of many non-essential businesses amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The ruling essentially means that the range is cleared to operate

You can find the entire ruling here.

A lawsuit was filed by the Virginia Citizens Defense League, Gun Owners of America, and SafeSide Tactical, arguing the governor's executive order to close non-essential businesses, specifically indoor gun ranges, is unconstitutional.

The suit alleged that Executive Order 53 exceeds the governor’s authority as a matter of state law and that it violates the right to keep and bear arms protected by state constitution, due to the inclusion of indoor gun ranges amid 'recreation' businesses deemed non-essential.

"There is no pandemic exception to the fundamental liberties that the Constitution of Virginia safeguards," argued David Browne, the plaintiff's attorney.

The ruling issued Monday by Judge F. Patrick Yeatts says, "The Governor, the Department of State Police, and all law enforcement divisions, agencies and officers within the commonwealth, are hereby enjoined and prohibited from enforcing, in any manor, the prohibition on public access to Lynchburg Range & Training, LLC (SafeSide)."

The ruling says Safeside still needs to follow social distancing and sanitizing guidelines set forth by health officials, and that no other aspect of the executive order or its enforcement is blocked.

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Apr. 24

A Lynchburg judge is set to decide if the Governor's Executive Order (EO) to close non-essential businesses, specifically indoor gun ranges, is unconstitutional.

Circuit Court Judge Patrick F. Yeatts heard arguments via video conference Friday.

The plaintiffs, Virginia Citizens Defense League, Gun Owners of America and SafeSide Tactical, filed the lawsuit.

It alleges EO53 exceeds the governor’s authority as a matter of state law and that it violates the right to keep and bear arms protected by state constitution. "There is no pandemic exception to the fundamental liberties that the Constitution of Virginia Safeguards," argued David Browne, the plaintiff's attorney.

"Both the emergency law, and other sources of authority give the Governor the power to do what he has done here," explained defense attorney Toby J. Heytens.

The plaintiff added the right to keep and bear arms, includes proper training. "The ability to have and operate and utilize shooting ranges is a fundamental part of the right to keep and bear arms because the right would be meaningless without the ability to acquire and maintain proficiency in firearms," said Browne.

The defense agreed training is important; however, Heytens reminded the court the executive order closes indoor ranges, not outdoor.

Heytens says public health is the Governor's top priority and firearms users can utilize other means to learn and practice. "When one contemplates what one being trained on how to use a firearm safely by another individual is, it becomes quickly apparent that we're talking about a prolonged period, presumably, where two people are in relatively close proximity with each other."

Judge Yeatts says he is going to take the arguments under advisement over the weekend.

He says he'll release a letter with his decision before noon Monday.

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Apr. 13

Many businesses in Virginia have had to shut down from being deemed "non-essential" during the coronavirus pandemic,

Included in Governor Northam's non-essential list are indoor gun ranges. Safeside Tactical, an indoor gun range in Roanoke and Lynchburg, has filed a lawsuit so it can be named an essential business.

Safeside Tactical's co-owner Mitchell Tyler says they are fighting for their business because they feel gun ranges are more of a need now than what they were, due to an uptick in firearms being purchased, safety precautions and to be able to pay their employees.

"Working together with gun ranges across the state, and VCDL and gun owners of America, we filed a suit this week against the governor to say the executive order as it applied to indoor ranges was not legally valid," said Tyler.

Tyler has had to lay off over half of his staff, and stop all training classes and membership billing, drying up most forms of revenue overnight. He says while he's concerned about his business and employees, he's equally concerned for the safety of new firearm owners and gun carriers in general.

They had a record number of firearms sold in March, and according to a study put out by the FBI, there has been a record number of firearms sold dating back to 1990.

"We're concerned because the reason we have the range and we built them is so that people could purchase firearms and then learn how to use them properly so basic safety training, efficiency, if you need to use a firearm, you need to know how it functions," said Tyler.

There is a hearing Tuesday morning in Lynchburg Circuit court to determine the next steps of the lawsuit.