Days after Wake County ordered all nonessential businesses to close on March 27, two gun-rights groups—the Gun Owners Association of America and Grass Roots North Carolina—sent a letter threatening a lawsuit, arguing that the order should not include gun shops.

At the root of their claim was a classification of essential workers issued by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity Infrastructure & Security Agency. The CISA list Wake County cited in its order, published on March 17, excluded gun stores.

But at the urging of the gun lobby, on March 28—the day after Wake County’s order took effect—CISA amended its list, adding under the section titled, “Law Enforcement, Public Safety, and Other First Responders”: “Workers supporting the operation of firearm or ammunition product manufacturers, retailers, importers, distributors, and shooting ranges.”

GOA and GRNC immediately pressed their case to Wake County Board of Commissioners chairman Greg Ford, who quickly reversed course—not, he told The News & Observer, because of their complaint, but because “these are routine updates as circumstances change.”

In Durham, Mayor Steve Schewel—whose March 25 stay-at-home order also cited the March 17 CISA list—said he wasn’t backing down. 

“We are not going to reconsider gun store sales,” he told the N&O on March 30. “Like all nonessential retail businesses, they are to cease operations immediately.”

There’s nothing in the CISA memo compelling cities to use it. CISA director Christopher Krebs says as much: “This list is advisory in nature. It is not, nor should it be considered a federal directive or standard. … Individual jurisdictions should add or subtract essential workforce categories based on their own requirements and discretion.”  

On March 31, the GOA and GNCC fired off a letter demanding that Schewel give in or face a lawsuit.

Regardless of the CISA memo, GOA senior vice president Erich Pratt and GRNC president F. Paul Valone wrote, the stay-at-home order should not apply to gun stores because they “provide ‘necessary supplies and services’ to enable persons to protect their and their families’ ‘health and safety,’ as your order provides. … Moreover, applying the Stay at Home Order to gun stores would violate state law and both the federal and state constitutions.”

Schewel was given two days to comply. 

“Based on these statements [to the media], and your refusal to exempt Second Amendment businesses from your Stay at Home Order, GRNC and GOA are in the process of preparing litigation to challenge your action on several bases, including those outlined above,” Pratt and Valone wrote. “We are planning on filing suit very soon to enjoin you from continuing to order gun stores to be closed.

“However, we have directed our lawyers to delay filing that litigation until at least 12:00 noon on Thursday, April 2, 2020, to give you the opportunity to make the simple change, to update your Stay at Home Order to correspond to the current updated CISA list of March 28, 2020, or to issue a public statement to the effect that Second Amendment businesses may remain open under the existing Stay at Home Order. We request that you take this action without delay.”

The Triangle has already seen gun litigation amid the pandemic. Wake County Sheriff Gerald Baker was sued after he stopped processing pistol-permit applications. He quickly entered into a consent agreement and begin issuing them again.

In this case, April 2 came and went, and Schewel made no such statement, but the gun groups didn’t sue. So what happened? 

Very quietly, the city rolled over. 

On April 3, the city and Durham County issued a consolidated stay-at-home order designed to clarify and tighten their rules. It further restricted public gatherings from 10 people to five or fewer. It banned all sports in which participants share equipment, including tennis. It closed fitness centers in apartment complexes. It forbid realtors from conducting any non-virtual house showings. It ordered employees of businesses that provide services in residential areas to wear masks. 

And on page 7, it says that businesses included in the March 28 CISA memo would be considered essential, which, of course, includes gun shops.

The gun nuts won. And they didn’t just win here.

Grass Roots North Carolina’s Paul Valone—who, in 2016, raffled an AR-15, 1,000 rounds of ammunition, and a framed portrait of then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, which is a totally normal thing to do—boasted to the North State Journal that Greensboro Mayor Nancy Vaughn had “immediately capitulated” and admitted she was “wrong” when his group sent her a similar letter. 

“Our lawyers said we couldn’t win,” Schewel told the INDY on Tuesday. “And not only that they were gonna win, but that we were gonna have to pay their legal fees. And so that’s why we made the decision—which is, you know, awful. Gun stores are not essential. In fact, they are damaging. It’s terrible to be forced into this position.”

Update: After this story posted, Valone responded to the INDY’s email: “Thanks for the kind words (such as they are). As I often say, any day I can piss off a leftist can’t be all bad.”

Contact editor in chief Jeffrey C. Billman at

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7 replies on “Gun Nuts Demanded That Durham Declare Gun Shops Essential. Durham Gave In.”

  1. Government should not be allowed to break their own laws. Durham got called out for imposing a restriction outside of their authority. Good on the “gun nuts” for their action. It’s sad that it wasn’t the ACLU bringing the lawsuit. Then it wouldn’t be another opportunity to bash gun owners.

  2. Awwww, poor wittle leftist commrats got stopped from disarming more victims.
    Democrats disarm victims, violate the law abiding, all while protecting more criminals.
    Stop the evil, never vote Dim again.

  3. When you start off using derogatory terms for a headline, you lose all credibility. Your lack of impartiality was never in question, but your inability to make your case without resorting to juvenile tactics like name calling shows your lack of intelligence and integrity.

  4. You say “The gun nuts won.”

    A lot of Americans died fighting for our basic civil rights, now we have extremists hijacking this disease to push their agenda of disarming the people. We should all be disgusted.

    The Bill of Rights doesn’t have a “unless there’s a virus” exclusion at the bottom.

    Clearly ‘we the people’ won this one.

  5. With your term “gun nuts” this is the most disgusting headline imaginable. Millions of people are now afraid and are flocking to gun stores for the first time in their lives to purchase a firearm to protect themselves and their families. However, some North Carolina officials decided that they had the authority to keep people vulnerable by shutting down gun stores. Who, with any conscience, could do such a thing? Of course Schewel’s attorneys told him that he would lose the case! If you have to denigrate people you might revise your story to reflect the truth. “Anit-human-rights nuts lost.”

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