In Douglas Rooks’ April 9 column, “It’s not easy to define essential,” he opined whether gun shops were “essential businesses” and, furthermore, questioned Gov. Janet Mills’ decision to designate them so. He went on to say it was the NRA that pressured the Trump administration to allow gun shops to remain open. 

It is true that the NRA sent out alerts to their members and filed suit in California. But I worked with the Mills administration over four days to designate gun retailers as essential. You might be surprised to learn the Second Amendment and the NRA were never mentioned in any of our many communications.

Instead the governor’s concerns were always the same, “How do I open gun shops and keep Maine people safe?”  Almost all our discussions revolved around that simple and fair question, and I believe my answer was equally fair and reasonable.

Maine is unique in our geography, we have a few heavily populated urban centers, surrounded by mostly rural farmlands and forests. In recent decades, it has been state and local policy to discourage sprawl and push rural populations into urban centers. These policies have led to consolidated schools, Super Walmarts and massive home construction centers, all in the name of saving money.  Everything we do now seems to be centered around “bigger is better.” We build bigger stadiums for sports, bigger buses, trains, cruise ships, prisons, gas stations and the list go on.  What do they all have in common? They push more people into congested, common areas, making people more vulnerable to a potential pandemic.

Rural small businesses, like gun shops, are a product of necessity, unlike a big-box store that relies on selling high volumes of cheaper made products with little, if any, service after the sale. Local gun shops have established a more specialized market offering gun repair and service, hands-on safety training and access to safe storage options. In many cases, they know their customers by name and many are neighbors; as a result of their much smaller customer base, shop owners can more easily implement policies like limiting in-store patrons, social distancing and curbside pickup. I predict when history measures success in combating the virus, it will find social distancing is a natural byproduct and protection for those living the rural lifestyle.     

Rooks claims that gun owners are practicing “radical individualism.” I believe each person’s reason to buy a firearm is different — maybe they feel threatened, they want to protect their property and their family, who knows — but shutting down small gun shops in rural areas, and forcing motivated buyers into urban centers to purchase their firearms in a big-box store, endangers not only buyers, but their community as well. 

Big stores see hundreds if not thousands of customers, many from populated areas, many with a confirmed coronavirus outbreak. More people in smaller places means more risk. Forcing rural Mainers to travel from relatively safe rural area with no outbreak into urban, heavily populated areas to shop for any product means greater risk. If exposed, they are likely to return home to spread the virus.

Guns and gun control are very contentious issues and some people seem to use any excuse to offer their opinion on the subject. I believe gun shops are essential businesses and should remain open as the pathway to exercising an individual’s right under the Constitution, just as Rooks is free to express his opinion under the First Amendment. And I believe gun shops are a much safer place do business.

In reality, whether you believe gun sales are essential is driven by one’s own political beliefs and feelings about firearms. 

Very soon, we will be looking at reopening businesses and going back to some version of normal life. As we do, I think it would be more productive for all of us to ask, “How do we open shops and keep Maine people safe?”          

David Trahan of Waldoboro, a former state legislator, is executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine. This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of that organization.

     


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