Clovis Mayor Drew Bessinger is asking Gov. Gavin Newsom not to restrict sales of guns and ammunition during the COVID-19 shelter-in-place order.
“I am writing you to strongly oppose any such action,” Bessinger wrote in a letter sent to Newsom on Wednesday.
Bessinger Concerned About Release of Inmates
“Taking our citizens’ right to purchase firearms and ammunition under the guise of an emergency order would embolden criminals and frighten an already stressed citizenry.” — Clovis Mayor Drew Bessinger in a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom
In his one-page letter, Bessinger expressed concern about the number of prisoners released from Fresno County jail under a state Judicial Council mandate. Hundreds have either been cut loose or will be released because of the Judicial Council’s $0 bail order for many offenses.
“These releases, coupled with the recent releases from California State Prison, will dramatically increase the potential that our citizens will be victimized by these criminals,” Bessinger wrote. “These people have already shown an inability to live amongst their fellow citizens in a peaceful and lawful manner.
“Taking our citizens’ right to purchase firearms and ammunition under the guise of an emergency order would embolden criminals and frighten an already stressed citizenry,” Bessinger said.
Bessinger, the police chief at Fresno Yosemite International Airport, referred to his lengthy law enforcement career in the letter. He wrote that he has an “ethical and moral responsibility to oppose any order that endangered the citizens I am sworn to protect.”
Letter Circulating to Halt Sales
Newsom faces pressure to list gun and ammo purchases as non-essential.
Assemblyman Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles) is circulating a letter, asking Newsom to halt sales.
“Adding more firearms to our current state of affairs perpetuates the cycle of public panic and impulsive action. An increased population of firearms in our state not only poses a greater risk to children and families who are largely confined to their homes, but also to our communities facing racially motivated or otherwise targeted hate. The people of California are grappling with a new reality brought on by COVID19 and we have a responsibility to respond to our state’s need for confidence and certainty. By suspending firearm and ammunition sales and arming Californians with strong safeguards on public health and safety reinforced by state peace officers, we can mitigate undue risks to our public,” a draft copy of the letter says.
Santiago’s office says the letter has not been sent, but the information in it is generally correct.
Newsom Defers to Local Sheriffs
A spokesman for the governor deferred to his prior statements during his daily news conferences when asked to respond to Bessinger’s letter.
On March 25, a reporter asked Newsom whether gun stores should remain open.
“I believe (in) people’s right to bear arms and I believe in people exercising that right. … I’ll defer to the sheriffs in their respective jurisdiction for that clarification.”
When asked Wednesday about Santiago’s letter, Newsom stayed consistent.
“We made the determination on directives going back weeks now,” Newsom said. “I defer to the sheriffs and their determination at the local level.”
That sits well with Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims.
“I appreciate the governor deferring to local control on making these decisions. I believe businesses that sell weapons and ammunition to qualified community members are essential service businesses,” Mims told GV Wire.
Gun Stores Remain Open in Clovis
“The firearms industry and firearms owners are not a quiet group and they will not go quietly into that good night. If the governor tries (halt sales), he will have some very interesting things to deal with.” — Jacob Belemjian, The Firing Line
Gun stores remain open in the city of Clovis, absent a direct order to close down.
Jacob Belemjian, owner of the Firing Line, says his gun shop and range are open, but business is slow after an initial surge of gun buying.
He urges Newsom not to alter gun sales, citing the Constitution.
“The governor does not have the authority to force anyone close or to do anything,” Belemjian said. “The firearms industry and firearms owners are not a quiet group and they will not go quietly into that good night. If the governor tries (halt sales), he will have some very interesting things to deal with.”
The Firing Line is practicing social distancing by limiting only three people inside at a time, and spacing out shooters in the range at least six feet apart.
“We’re not stupid. We’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing,” Belemjian said.
Belemjian has not had to reduce staff but did apply for federal CARES Act funding.
Status in Fresno County, City
The city of Fresno has a specific list of essential and non-essential businesses. While gun stores aren’t specifically mentioned in either list, the city added a caveat that any retail store not deemed essential is not allowed to operate.
However, the city allowed sporting goods stores — some of which sell firearms and ammo — to open after initially deeming them non-essential businesses.
The county has no guidelines on whether gun stores should be considered essential or not.
Read Bessinger’s Letter to Newsom