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Court backs Cuomo shutdown of gun dealers during pandemic

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo during a news

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo during a news conference in July.   Credit: Savannah Morning News via AP/Steve Bisson

ALBANY – The National Rifle Association on Friday lost its lawsuit against the Cuomo administration, which had forced firearms dealers to close March 22 as part of the economic shutdown forced by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Empire State Development Corp. had deemed the businesses “non-essential,” and so they were ordered shut down under Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s executive order to contend with spread of the virus. Gun stores have since reopened along with most retail stores in phases as Cuomo started to reopen the economy in May.

Much of Friday’s decision from Judge Mae A. D'Agostino of the U.S. District Court for Northern New York was based on technical grounds, rather than the broad constitutional arguments posed by the NRA.

The judge found the NRA, as an advocacy organization, failed to show how it was hurt by the executive order. The judge noted the NRA had, on its own, canceled some of its instructional courses during the height of the pandemic.

Cuomo’s order closed gun retail stores to all but sales to law enforcement customers. The NRA argued that violated the U.S. Constitution’s right to bear arms under the 2nd Amendment, to not have property – in this case businesses - taken away without just compensation under the 5th Amendment; and forced arms dealers to lose rights to property without due process and equal protection under the 14th Amendment.

Cuomo Senior Advisor Rich Azzopardi said the NRA’s argument was “laughed out of court.”

“Their brand of destructive political games are bad enough in normal times and are completely beyond the pale during a pandemic,” Azzopardi said.

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“Although we respectfully disagree that the NRA lacked standing to pursue this case – then or now – we were pleased the action brought attention to an abuse of power against gun retailers." said William A. Brewer III, outside counsel to the NRA. "The NRA will always fight for confirmation that gun stores are ‘essential’ – and will not shrink from defending the Constitutional freedoms of its members.”

The case was won by lawyers for state Attorney General Letitia James, who earlier this month filed a lawsuit  accusing the NRA of financial abuses by top officers and failing to abide by state law governing charities and foundations, which provides the NRA with a tax break.

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