On Tuesday, March 24, Wake County Sheriff Gerald Baker announced his office was suspending all pistol permit and concealed-carry services. However, as JLF’s Jon Sanders writes in his recent research brief, Baker does not have the authority to make that decision. Sanders writes:

There’s a big problem with this announcement: Baker does not have the statutory or constitutional authority to make that decision. North Carolina is a shall-issue state, and the sheriff’s office is required to respond to a permit request within 14 days.

Sanders writes that this makes way for a bigger question: “are ammunition sales ‘essential services’ under a state of emergency?” Sanders explains the importance of such a question:

This is no small matter: Being labeled “nonessential” can very well be a death sentence for your business. It means your employees are out of jobs, your suppliers are losing customers, and your community is losing your services and tax revenues, too.

Sanders writes:

All signs point to gun and ammunition stores as essential businesses, alongside such things as hospitals, grocery stores, pharmacies, long-term care facilities, banks, gas stations, hardware stores, construction trades, mail and shipping, etc…

North Carolina law stipulates that even under a declared state of emergency, municipalities and counties are not authorized to level “prohibitions or restrictions on lawfully possessed firearms or ammunition” even as they can prohibit “the possession, transportation, sale, purchase, storage, and use of gasoline, and dangerous weapons and substances.”

State leaders should clarify this regardless of how apparent it may seem. Sanders explains:

Whether people are worried about being able to defend themselves at home, “where the need for defense of self, family, and property is most acute,” or whatever other thing is spurring their interest, they are certainly entitled to owning, selling, and purchasing firearms and ammunition, regardless of a declared state of emergency.

To allay their fears, state leaders should make it explicit that firearm and ammunition sales and purchases are essential in an emergency because they protect fundamental civil rights.

In the meantime, if a bureaucratic permitting process is leading to lengthy lines and delays, perhaps it’s time to revisit how that’s done as well.

Read the full brief here. Read more briefs from our COVID-19 series here.