A coalition of gun-rights activists Monday filed a lawsuit against New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy for closing gun stores and suspending legally required background checks amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The lawsuit charges that Mr. Murphy’s actions violate the Second Amendment’s right to keep and bear arms.
“This emergency has its constitutional limits. It would not justify a prior restraint on speech nor a suspension of the right to vote. Just the same, it does not justify a ban on obtaining guns and ammunition,” the plaintiffs wrote in a court filing.
Mr. Murphy, a Democrat, issued an executive order Saturday closing all non-essential businesses in New Jersey. Firearms dealers were not deemed essential and the state also stopped processing background checks.
Roughly a dozen states have shuttered “non-essential” businesses as the deadly coronavirus sweeps across the country. Some of those states have kept gun stores opened, while others have shuttered them.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat, issued a shelter-in-place order Friday, but said firearm retailers could stay open “for purposes of safety and security.”
The New Jersey lawsuit was filed on behalf of Robert Kashinsky, a Somerset resident who intended to buy two long rifles this week, according to court documents.
Mr. Kashinsky was joined in the lawsuit by the New Jersey Second Amendment Society, the Second Amendment Foundation and Legends Firearms, a Monroe Township, New Jersey, firearms retailer.
The lawsuit also names New Jersey State Police Superintendent Patrick J. Callahan as a defendant because his department oversees state background checks.
The plaintiffs said Mr. Murphy’s order is essentially a ban on firearm purchases because it does not have an end date and experts have differed on the length of time it will take the pandemic to run its course.
“Gov. Murphy cannot simply suspend the Second Amendment and neither can Supt. Callahan,” Alan Gottlieb, executive vice president of the Second Amendment Foundation, said. “Yet, under this emergency order, that’s exactly what they’re doing. The Constitution and federal law don’t allow that.”
Mr. Gottlieb told The Washington Times his group is weighing lawsuits against other states and cities that have deemed firearms retailers as “non-essential.”
A spokesman for Mr. Murphy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Gun sales have skyrocketed since the coronavirus outbreak became a pandemic earlier this month.
The National Shooting Sports Foundation said the FBI processed more than 300% more background checks on March 16 than it did on the same day in 2019. Ammo.com, which ships ammunition to gun dealers, said its total transactions jumped 222% between Feb. 23 and March 15.
The sales are being driven fears of an economic recession along with looting and pandemonium because of the pandemic. Many of those flocking to firearms dealers are said to be first-time buyers.
The gun-sale spike is leading to long delays in approvals and wait times could get even longer.
Earlier this month, the FBI office that operates the National Instant Criminal Background Check System said it is considering staff reductions or shuttering some offices in response to the coronavirus pandemic.