Despite the Supreme Court punting on the NYSRPA case, it hasn’t been a totally bad day in the courts. Judge F. Patrick Yeatts of the 24th Judicial District of Virginia granted SafeSide Virginia, VCDL, GOA, and the Association of Gun Ranges of Virginia a temporary injunction against Gov. Ralph Northam’s closure order.
Judge Yeatts found that Gov. Northam had exceeded his authority in closing indoor gun ranges. Northam had argued that his authority came from his chief executive power to assure that “laws are faithfully executed” and that he could ignore laws that limited his authority. Judge Yeatts disagreed saying:
The Court cannot agree with such an expansive interpretation of the Governor’s authority. His duty to “take care that the laws be faithfully executed” include the laws that limit his power during emergencies like §44-146.15 (3).
Accordingly, the Court finds that the Governor’s power to close whole categories of businesses would only come from §44-146.17, which is constrained by §44-146.15(3) regarding the right to keep and bear arms.
Judge Yeatts notes that the Virginia Constitution includes the words “trained to arms” in the prefatory clause of the Commonwealth’s equivalent of the Second Amendment. He goes on to say that “gun ranges provide a venue for such training to occur, thus, “bear arms” includes loading and shooting at a gun range.” He then references the 7th Circuit’s decision in the Ezell v. Chicago.
In discussing the appropriate level of scrutiny, Judge Yeatts says, “The Court declines to invent a level of scrutiny to circumvent the text in the statute.” §44-146.15(3) says that the governor cannot “in any way limit or prohibit the right of the people to keep and bear arms” during an emergency.
The judge believes the plaintiffs will succeed on the merits. He found that they would suffer irreparable harm if forced to stay closed, that the balance of equities favors granting a temporary injunction, and that the injunction favors the public interest.
His order granting the injunction does note that safe distancing and sanitizing edicts of Executive Order 53 should be followed.
Cam Edwards, writing at BearingArms.com, believes Northam will appeal.
The governor will almost certainly appeal Judge Yeatts decision, but for the moment, SafeSide Lynchburg and other indoor ranges in the state are allowed to re-open. The judge made the right call. Let’s hope that the state Supreme Court agrees.
I agree with Cam’s hope that the Virginia Supreme Court likewise agrees.
UPDATE: I should clarify that Judge Yeatts’ order only applies to SafeSide Lynchburg. He did not order the rest of the indoor ranges in the state be opened.
VCDL sent out an email regarding the win and noted:
As for the other indoor ranges that are still closed, VCDL is disappointed that they were not covered under the ruling and we are weighing our legal options at this time. Our goal is to get all indoor ranges the option of reopening as soon as possible.