Texas gun stores are essential businesses, may stay open during the pandemic, attorney general says

(Texas Tribune) – Gun stores are essential businesses and should be allowed to remain open during the COVID-19 pandemic, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said Friday.

Paxton said in his nonbinding opinion that state law prevents cities and counties from "adopting regulations related to the transfer, possession, or ownership of firearms, or commerce in firearms."

Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, on Tuesday requested that Paxton’s office weigh in on whether firearm sales can be listed as essential businesses by local officials, as businesses across the state have shuttered due to shelter-in-place orders designed to slow the spread of the new coronavirus.

"Having access to tools of self-protection, hunting and for keeping your property safe and secure is always essential. It’s even more essential for access during times of uncertainty and emergency," Burrows said in a written statement.

Many cities and counties had not designated gun retailers, ranges or manufacturers as essential businesses in their stay-at-home orders, Burrows said in his letter. However, San Antonio and Dallas County did exempt the firearms businesses.

“It does not appear that cities or counties have the authority to restrict the transfer of firearms, even during a natural disaster,” Burrows wrote in his request.

The opinion comes less than 72 hours after the agency received Burrows' request — a remarkably fast turnaround on a process that routinely takes weeks or months.

Essential workers and businesses are allowed and sometimes required by the government to stay open during an emergency. Hospitals, grocery stores, gas stations and airports are considered essential businesses by local officials, however, the rules differ from county to county.

In a radio interview Wednesday, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said gun stores and places that sell ammunition are essential businesses because if there's a "break down of society" people need to be able to defend themselves.

"I think having a weapon ... is very important for your personal safety. And for anyone to say that's not essential, I really don't understand," said Patrick, a longtime member of the National Rifle Association.

But Gyl Switzer, executive director of Texas Gun Sense said guns are not essential to Texas' pandemic response.

"People tend to cite their own personal protection as the reason for getting a gun, and the data shows that you're more at risk if you have a firearm in your home," Switzer said.

Emma Platoff contributed to this report.