NRA and 3 other gun groups suing L.A. County Sheriff Villanueva over shutting down firearms dealers

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Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva is seen in an undated photo. (Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva is seen in an undated photo. (Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Four gun-owners rights organizations on Friday sued Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva over his repeated attempts this week to shut down firearms dealers, contending that his actions violate citizens’ constitutionally guaranteed right to bear arms.

“Shuttering access to arms necessarily shutters the Constitutional right to those arms,” says the federal lawsuit filed by the Second Amendment Foundation, National Rifle Association of America, California Gun Rights Foundation, and Firearms Policy Coalition on behalf of individual gun buyers and a Los Angeles firearm and ammunition retailer.

Meanwhile, libertarian economist and actor Ben Stein sued Gov. Gavin Newsom, challenging whether California’s unprecedented restrictions on social movement can actually be enforced.

Gun-owner rights organizations have asked the federal government to end the debate nationwide over whether gun shops can remain open despite growing stay-at-home orders aimed at reducing the spread of the coronavirus. They want the U.S. government to specifically add them to official lists of essential services.

They say the Los Angeles lawsuit is the first in California to challenge forced closures. It could end a patchwork of such decisions that has Villanueva ordering them closed to the public in the nation’s most populous county, while other California sheriffs declare them to be vital.

Villanueva’s office did not respond to telephone and email requests for comment.

The sheriff first ordered a total shutdown on Tuesday, saying long lines from panic buyers risked spreading the coronavirus. The disease causes mild or moderate symptoms for most people, but for some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.

He again on Thursday ordered the stores closed to the public, challenging the county legal counsel’s finding that the stores are essential businesses that should remain open. However, his second order said the stores may still supply security guard companies, and anyone who already has purchased a gun and possesses a valid safety certificate can pick up their firearms.

Those exceptions aren’t good enough, the lawsuit says, because gun stores provide “the only lawful means to buy, sell, and transfer firearms and ammunition available to typical, law-abiding Californians.”

It also argues the shutdown violates the constitutional right to due process, and says even those who can pick up their previously purchased firearms now can’t buy the ammunition they need to go with them.

Meanwhile, Stein’s lawsuit in Sacramento County Superior Court asks that a judge clarify the rights that citizens have under Newsom’s executive order, which it notes has not been enacted into law by state legislators nor by voters at the ballot box.

His requirement that residents stay home except for essential errands “approximates the house arrest of 39.5 million healthy and uninfected California citizens,” says the lawsuit filed by the actor perhaps best known for his dry, monotone delivery in the 1986 movie “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”

“Ben respects the governor and he respects people doing social distancing and good health hygiene. But what he has an issue with is that the governor’s order appears to be dictatorial,” said prominent right-wing attorney Larry Klayman, the founder of Judicial Watch and Freedom Watch who sued on Stein’s behalf.

He argued that Newsom’s order, while laudable as a recommendation, “cannot be enforced.”

Newsom administration officials did not respond to requests for comment. It’s unclear when or if the suit might be considered, because most court functions have been shut down due to the coronavirus.

So far, officials generally deny that they are conducting stops or making arrests if someone doesn’t comply.

But Stein, who lives in Beverly Hills, said in the lawsuit and on Klayman’s radio show Friday that a friend who is a pastor has been threatened with arrest if he holds religious services even for fewer than 10 people.

“This is outrageous, this is a police state, and it’s an interference with freedom of religion, it’s an interference with freedom of assembly,” Stein said on the show. “It’s what I call a soft police state.”

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