Politics

Charlie Baker adds the gun industry to list of essential businesses allowed to stay open in Massachusetts

The state also briefly added — and then removed — gun shops and shooting ranges to the list.

A worker holds a handgun inside the Smith & Wesson factory in Springfield. Suzanne Kreiter / The Boston Globe, File

As the number of coronavirus cases in Massachusetts continues to rise, Gov. Charlie Baker is making a few changes to last week’s order requiring the state’s nonessential businesses to close.

During a press conference Tuesday afternoon, Baker announced that the order will be extended until May 4, along with the state’s stay-at-home advisory and ban on public gatherings of more than 10 people.

The Republican governor also said the administration was updating the wide-ranging list of “COVID-19 Essential Services” that are allowed to keep their brick-and-mortar workplaces open in the midst of the pandemic. The additions include chiropractors and optometrists, certain types of sanitation workers, and “clarity around the supply chain that supports other essential services,” according to the governor and a press release from his office.

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However, directly not mentioned by Baker or the subsequent press release Tuesday was another addition to the list: The gun industry.

“Workers supporting the operation of firearm or ammunition product manufacturers, importers, and distributors,” reads one of the categories in the updated list of essential services.

The additions had also briefly included gun retailers and shooting ranges when it was originally released Tuesday afternoon, matching up identically with updated federal guidelines released Saturday by President Donald Trump’s administration advising states on what sectors are “ensuring continuity of functions critical to public health and safety.” As the Wall Street Journal reported Monday, states like New Jersey and Pennsylvania have reversed course and allowed gun stores to stay open amid orders for nonessential business to close.

Gun shops have also been deemed essential in Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island (they are not specifically mentioned in Vermont’s list).

However, later in the afternoon Tuesday, the specific mentions of gun retailers and shooting ranges were removed from the Baker administration’s list without explanation. Asked about the changes, Baker’s office noted that they followed federal guidance, tailoring the list to reflect the unique economy in Massachusetts. But the administration declined to respond to specific questions regarding the apparent 360-degree turn on gun shops and shooting ranges.

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Even before the changes Tuesday, the list of essential businesses had caused confusion in the firearm industry. As the Cape Cod Times reported Monday, many gun stores had closed following Baker’s original March 23 order — but others deemed themselves essential and stayed open, citing the Trump’s administration’s advisory. The gun manufacturing giant Smith and Wesson also kept its Springfield headquarters open, arguing in part that the factory supplies essential law enforcement needs (however, it closed part of the plant Tuesday after a worker tested positive for COVID-19).

James Wallace, the executive director of the Northborough-based Gun Owners Action League, said his group had initially celebrated the move to add gun shops and shooting ranges to the list of essential businesses in Massachusetts. However, they were left confused and dismayed with the administration when the two business types were quietly removed. Wallace argued that the firearm industry should receive an exception due to the Second Amendment.

“For now, we’re in a gray area,” he told Boston.com over the phone Tuesday night. “I guess we regroup tomorrow and try to figure out what the heck is going on.”

The changes to Baker’s essential businesses took effect at noon Wednesday. In a tweet Wednesday afternoon, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey asserted that gun shops and shooting ranges “are NOT essential businesses during a public health emergency.”

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“We cannot undermine the safety of our police officers, first responders, and domestic violence victims,” Healey wrote.

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