Gov. Janet Mills’ orders gun shops closed but abortion clinics, others remain open

The sign outside Kittery Trading Post in 2018 reminding passers-by of the Constitutionally protected right of Americans to keep and bear arms.

AUGUSTA – Word that Governor Janet Mills’ administration was forcing Kittery Trading Post to close yesterday sent a shockwave through Maine. Not long after, Mills’ spokesperson Lindsey Crete confirmed to southern Maine television station WMTW that Mills’ interpretation of her own emergency order issued March 24th meant retailers that sold “only guns” were required to close.

The Mills’ administration argues that gun shops are “non-essential” businesses as the state wrangles with the coronavirus pandemic. According to the report by WMTW quoting Crete, the Mills administration sees guns as “sporting goods”, ignoring the value of firearms in the need for self-defense and law enforcement.

Groups such as Gun Owners of Maine and the NRA think differently, arguing that the ability, and constitutional right of Mainers to defend themselves in the worsening crisis is a paramount concern and without a doubt an “essential” component of Mainers being able to take care of themselves.

The National Rifle Association issued a bulletin asking their members to contact Governor Mills’ office and call on her to correct her “egregious error” and classify firearms dealers as “essential businesses.”

Gun Owners of Maine, Maine’s most vibrant grassroots organization defending gun rights, issued a detailed statement saying, “While we understand, and are sympathetic to the concerns with virus transmission, we feel that not allowing citizens to access firearms, ammunition and other items related to self-preservation, sets a dangerous precedent.

“There are plenty of avenues to reduce viral transmission that are being implemented by other businesses which DO qualify as “Essential” and have protection from closure. Some of these exemptions include convenience stores and hardware stores. While we see the value in both, we also can’t overlook the importance of access to items of critical, Constitutionally protected items such as firearms and ammunition, which rise well above “convenience” items.”

“Gun shops are important centers for training, repair, refinishing, and resupply for Law Enforcement, Security Personnel and citizens in their respective area,” continues the statement from Gun Owners of Maine.

“Allowing the closing of gun shops would put every community at a severe disadvantage with respect to safety and security, and would be magnified several times over during a crisis situation. Local police officers and their departments are serviced by their area gun shops. Closing these vital businesses down leaves them as unprepared and vulnerable as the citizens they serve and protect.”

According to NHPR, across Maine’s border in neighboring New Hampshire, Governor Chris Sununu has declared firearms stores as “essential” to allow them to stay open. Even in liberal Los Angeles County, California, the Sheriff who had previously been trying to shut down firearms dealers has backtracked, deeming them “essential.”

At the same time the Mills administration is shutting down gun shops, abortion clinics across Maine and other businesses and organizations which many see as less essential than the Constitutional right to self-defense remain open under the state of emergency.

All four Planned Parenthood clinics in Maine were still operating under scheduled hours of operation as of Friday morning.

One of those four Planned Parenthood clinics is in the city of Portland. Earlier this week, the city of Portland put in place the tightest COVID-19 restrictions in the state, imposing a “stay-at-home” order and curfew, threatening a $500 fine to any resident violating the order.

The Planned Parenthood clinic in Topsham remains open despite Topsham’s municipal government declaring a state of civil emergency and giving the Topsham Town Manager emergency powers.

In Biddeford, city leaders have declared a state of emergency as well, but the Planned Parenthood clinic on Main Street, tucked between a café and a sale, is still open four days a week.

In Sanford, while the city has not taken such formal actions as their counterparts, city buildings and schools are closed while the city response team works to move the city through the crisis. Planned Parenthood’s clinic in the MidTown Mall in Sanford remains open on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

Each local Planned Parenthood clinic website page now carries a “Coronavirus Important Information” notice at the top of the page, asking people to read before booking an appointment. That notice provides guidance on new screening procedures, a new phone-only appointment making process and more.

In Bangor, the Mabel Wadsworth Center remains open Monday through Thursday despite the state’s civil emergency and restrictions by Bangor’s leader that were called the strictest in the state earlier this week. The Mabel Wadsworth Center says on their website that they are still accepting new clients for prenatal and abortion care. The center also says they are screening everyone at the door and restricting access to clients only and disallowing support people from accompanying clients to appointments.

Maine Family Planning’s network of clinics stretching from Fort Kent to Lewiston also remained open as of Friday, with similar notices about measures being taken due to coronavirus.

Other businesses, such as liquor stores and tobacco retailers also remain open across the state, having been deemed “essential” by the state of Maine.

In New Jersey, a federal lawsuit has been filed against the state’s governor for a similar action as the one taken by Governor Mills. The plaintiffs in that suit argue that the governor’s shuttering of gun shops infringes on the right of one plaintiff (who does not own a gun) to purchase one gun for self-defense.

Their argument is that the Second Amendment rights of Americans should be treated in the same manner that the right to free speech or the right to vote are treated and none of these rights should be infringed under a state emergency order.

“The Plaintiffs bringing this action do not mean to minimize the severity or urgency of the coronavirus pandemic. The exigencies surrounding this viral pandemic both justify and necessitate changes in the manner in which people live their lives and conduct their daily business. However, this emergency (like any other emergency) has its constitutional limits. It would not justify a prior restraint on speech, nor a suspension of the right to vote. Just the same, it does not justify a ban on obtaining guns and ammunition.”

It remains to be seen if any affected party will file suit against Governor Janet Mills on similar grounds. One component of the New Jersey suit is the closing of the state-level background check system, effectively tying the hands of gun shops to qualify gun owners for purchases even if they could find an alternative method to serve customers.

Maine CDC says there have been more than 150 positive tests for coronavirus across Maine as of Thursday. There have been no deaths attributed to coronavirus in Maine to date.

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