The Trump Administration's Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) recently deemed gun shops, shooting ranges, and gun manufacturers as essential businesses during the pandemic. Essential businesses are allowed to remain open while utilizing safe distancing precautions. This determination, however, is more symbolic than legal. A few states have ordered that gun ranges shut down due to coronavirus while the majority have agreed and left them open. The forced shutdowns have lead to several lawsuits, but that's a topic for another day.
To Close or Not to Close?
The decision to remain open or closed has fallen largely on each individual range to decide what is best for them. Many outdoor ranges, at least in the North, are just starting to open up after Winter shutdowns. They have the luxury of fresh air and more space, which makes choosing to open easier. Indoor ranges have a unique set of issues to consider when deciding what to do. The stalls tend to be closer together making social distancing difficult. Regular disinfecting can be hard as well, no matter how good the range's filtration system is.
Ranges have been left with three choices with how to move forward during these trying times:
- Keep both the range and retail areas open.
- Close the range but keep the retail area open.
- Close completely
Range and Retail Open
I spoke to a wide variety of indoor ranges about how they came to the decision to remain open or to close. Several common themes emerged during discussions. Often times the decision to keep both the range and retail space open was a financial one. Many of the businesses with smaller retail spaces chose to keep both open because they depend on the income made by their ranges to stay afloat. One range we spoke with has only been open since late January and closing down would be devastating.
Other indoor ranges have remained open to allow new gun buyers the opportunity to shoot their purchases. There has been a great deal of concern expressed that so many people are buying guns who may have no experience and no way to get it with the closures. Still more ranges have remained open citing the Second Amendment and gun rights in general. Of the indoor ranges remaining open, precautions such as only using every other bay and limiting the number of shooters are the most common.
Range Closed / Retail Open
Businesses electing to close their range down but keep their retail space open seems to be a popular decision. This allows the company to continue to make money from the unprecedented gun and ammunition sales, while still offering some protections to staff and customers. While not perfect, this plan seems to strike a balance between health and profits.
We spoke with one company that has two ranges in Kansas City and manages another in Omaha. They are working to keep as many staff employed as possible while also keeping them safe. In an email to members they cited the difficulty of keeping the range area sanitized during the outbreak, as well as maintaining social distancing. They only allow seven customers in the store at a time for gun and ammunition sales only. They don't allow browsing and have shut down all non-firearms related sales. Customers are met at the front door where they give an employee their cell number then return to their cars to wait for a text that it is their turn to go in. Range check-in staff and RSOs have been reassigned to help with checking people in and supporting the receiving staff.
Range and Retail Closed
During our research we found very few ranges that have shutdown completely, but there are some. This author spoke at length with Derrick, the owner of Target Time Defense. They are a range and store in Blue Springs, MO that reopened just over a year ago under new ownership. For all intents and purposes they are currently completely closed to the public. They are still processing existing orders and FFL transfers but no new sales at this time.
Derrick reported that they started formulating back-up plans as soon as talks about shutting things down began. He reached out to area law enforcement and security companies to arrange for them to continue to use the range for training. They spoke to groups like the Chamber of Commerce and county personnel trying to establish if gun stores would be deemed essential or not. He also spoke with his insurance provider who reported that any coronavirus related lawsuits would not be covered.
Ultimately the decision was a moral one for Target Time Defense's owner. They run tight staffing levels under normal conditions and some of the staff are deemed high risk. Derrick considers the staff and many of the customers family. He stated he could live without the money but not with himself if one of them became ill because he decided to stay open.
Instead of being open they are using this time to do some remodeling and to restock. They are expanding their shipping and receiving area to allow for substantial growth. They are also working on some exclusive distribution deals with various vendors. All of this will put them in a great place when they do reopen.
It's hard to say what is next for all the ranges that are closed right now. They are just as up in the air as the rest of us. It can be hard to balance public health and economic health. Both are vital to our survival.
When asked about reopening, Derrick said they are considering reopening on a limited basis in the next few weeks. Much of their plans depend on the state's shutdown order and how the virus is progressing. The Kansas City business doesn't have a plan to reopen the ranges right now. They have said when they do it will likely be open to members only for at least a couple of weeks.
If and when things return to normal, we encourage you to support your local ranges. Take a new gun owner shooting with you and introduce them to proper stance, grip, and safety practices. Sign up for a class and increase your own skills. If you are a new gun owner and didn't get the proper accessories such as a quality holster and extra magazines that will be your chance. Most of all thank them and their staff for doing everything they have done to keep you safe!