Judge rules Virginia indoor gun range can reopen amid coronavirus pandemic

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Lynchburg Circuit Court Judge F. Patrick Yeatts granted a temporary injunction on Monday for SafeSide Tactical, allowing its Lynchburg range to be open for business effective immediately.

The judge’s ruling comes as gun rights advocates in the state are fighting to reopen indoor gun ranges, which have been closed since March by Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat. Protesters across the country, including in Virginia, have also called for America to reopen its economy, as the unemployment rate has climbed to a historic high and businesses are taking a huge hit.
To slow the spread of coronavirus, Northam issued an executive order on March 23 closing “recreational and entertainment businesses,” including theaters, salons and indoor shooting ranges. Firearms retailers were allowed to remain open so long as they limit “all in-person shopping to no more than 10 patrons.” Northam recently extended his order through May 8.

The day after Northam announced the extension, SafeSide Tactical, along with Virginia Citizens Defense League, Gun Owners of America and Association of Virginia Gun Ranges, sued the governor, arguing that Northam’s order exceeded his executive authority and violated the Virginia state constitution.

On Monday, Yeatts wrote in his opinion that while Northam is “given great deference” and power during an emergency, state law limits his authority over the right to keep and bear arms.

“The Court understands the Governor’s desire to protect the citizens of our great Commonwealth. But in taking steps to stop the spread of Covid-19, he took a step beyond what is allowed” by the state law, the judge wrote.

SafeSide’s co-owner Mitchell Taylor confirmed to CNN that the range, which has furloughed about half of its staff, will reopen Wednesday.

Taylor said SafeSide will require face coverings for all staff and customers. Sessions will be limited to half an hour and one shooter per lane. Since there are only nine lanes, Taylor said, there will only be nine patrons at the range at a time. Safety officers will disinfect the area between sessions.

Asked about the ruling Monday during a press conference, Northam said that the state will consider their options as they move forward.

“No particular business has been singled out,” Northam said. “But businesses where the patrons would be at risk to be confined and whether it would perhaps be more than 10 people, we made the decision to close them.”

“So while I respect the decisions of our judicial system, we will look at our options as we move forward,” he added.

CNN has also reached out to state Attorney General Mark Herring for comment.

Taylor told CNN that SafeSide’s legal team is looking at the best options to reopen its Roanoke location and waiting to see if the state appeals the circuit decision.

“We feel confidently we can operate the business in a manner that’s safe for our customers and our staff,” he said.

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