Quite possibly the most polarizing and controversial political conversation happening currently in America surrounds the private ownership of firearms. The fuel for this tension comes from the fact that tens of thousands of people die as a result of firearms in the United States annually, as well as the fact that Americans receive news of a new mass shooting nearly every time they turn on the news. With the anniversary upon us today of one of the most horrific mass shootings to date, the Columbine Massacre, this conversation demands to be had. 

This gun culture in America comes from the Second Amendment, which guarantees American citizens the right to bear arms. Both sides of the political spectrum heavily debate the legitimacy of this provision in the Constitution, as technological advances turned firearms into more lethal weapons than at the time the law was written. A constant back-and-forth has yet to produce any substantial conclusion to determine the role guns should play in American daily life.

The debate finds itself in a brand new context now during the COVID-19 epidemic — whether or not gun stores have an “essential” function for society. A majority of states in America mandated stay at home orders for their citizens, closing down all businesses except for those deemed “essential,” such as hospitals, grocery stores, and restaurants offering take-out or delivery options. So, where do gun stores belong in all of this?

People on the anti-gun side of the spectrum raise several concerns about gun stores remaining open in this time of global crisis. Central to all of this, they maintain the notion that guns do not have an essential function for the day-to-day lives of most Americans, and therefore, should not fall under the “essential” category. 

Pro-gun individuals shared concern over the pandemic causing an infringement on their constitutional rights, so many turned to panic-buying more guns and ammo to protect them. An article from NPR explains that many worry the increase in purchases could lead to more firearm accidents as some do not store or utilize them safely. 

Additionally, many police departments rely on local stores to supply them with guns and ammunition. Many anti-gun people do not receive this fact with much sympathy anyway, but pro-gun people view the closing of stores as a threat to public safety. 

For some people, guns do have a legitimate essential everyday function. In many places throughout the country, places that people call home might not have ready access to first responders in their area. For countless rural counties, they may rely on the county sheriff’s department as their first line of defense. In the event of a break-in — which these areas experience more than one might realize — the homeowner’s only defense is themselves. 

Even more broadly, firearms have a purpose for protection against aggressive predators, such as coyotes, wolves, or mountain lions. A gun could protect people and their animals, whether they have pets or livestock, even if just used as an auditory deterrent. 

Every state approached the stores’ closing differently. Washington State, for instance, did not consider gun stores “essential” in their official proclamation. Texas, on the other hand, disagrees — both state’s opinions on this matter follow suit with their political reputation. As every other state in the country makes a decision on this matter, it’s sure to make a statement on where they stand in the argument, which will undoubtedly add even more tension to the gun conversation. 

I don’t agree with anti-gun rhetoric, but the idea that your average Joe in America needs an automatic — or even semi-automatic weapon — has not convinced me either. For people like me that stand in a place with sympathy for both sides of the argument, trying to pick a side poses a challenge. 

Ultimately, I think that gun stores should receive the same treatment as everything else. If you don’t have an absolute need to go to a grocery store, you shouldn’t. If you don’t have an absolute need to go to a gun store, you shouldn’t. Stay open, but stay restricted. These stores should follow the rules that many other retail facilities do currently — six feet apart, promoting online shopping, and increased hygiene procedures. 

Most other non-critical legal procedures, like weddings and even funerals, currently face an indefinite hiatus. Licenses to carry should, too. If someone can’t even receive a marriage license right now — which certainly, the constitution allows — then I find it difficult to argue that licenses to carry should not receive the same treatment.

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