Skip to main content
Coronavirus in Texas

Texas gun stores are essential businesses, may stay open during the pandemic, attorney general says

City and county officials cannot prohibit the sale of guns during an emergency declaration, according to the Texas Attorney General.

Gun store near Independence.

Coronavirus in Texas

As the coronavirus spreads across the state, The Texas Tribune is covering the most important health, economic and breaking developments that affect Texans, every day. Watch our Texas unemployment tracker, use our explainer on the coronavirus for essential information, and visit our map tracker for the number of cases, deaths and tests in Texas.

 More in this series 

Gun stores are essential business and should be allowed to remain open during the COVID-19 pandemic, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said Friday.

Paxton said in his nonbinding opinion that state law prevents cities and counties from "adopting regulations related to the transfer, possession, or ownership of firearms, or commerce in firearms."

Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock, on Tuesday requested that Paxton's office weigh in on whether firearm sales can be listed as essential businesses by local officials, as businesses across the state have shuttered due to shelter-in-place orders designed to slow spread of the new coronavirus.

"Having access to tools of self-protection, hunting and for keeping your property safe and secure is always essential. It’s even more essential for access during times of uncertainty and emergency," Burrows said in a written statement.

Many cities and counties had not designated gun retailers, ranges or manufacturers as essential businesses in their stay-at-home orders, Burrows said in his letter. However, San Antonio and Dallas County did exempt the fire arms businesses.

“It does not appear that cities or counties have the authority to restrict the transfer of firearms, even during a natural disaster,” Burrows wrote in his request.

The opinion comes less than 72 hours after the agency received Burrows' request — a remarkably fast turnaround on a process that routinely takes weeks or months.

Essential workers and businesses are allowed and sometimes required by the government to stay open during an emergency. Hospitals, grocery stores, gas stations and airports are considered essential businesses by local officials, however, the rules differ from county to county.

In a radio interview Wednesday, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick said gun stores and places that sell ammunition are essential businesses because if there's a "break down of society" people need to be able to defend themselves.

"I think having a weapon ... is very important for your personal safety. And for anyone to say that's not essential, I really don't understand," said Patrick, a longtime member of the National Rifle Association.

But Gyl Switzer, executive director of Texas Gun Sense said guns are not essential to Texas' pandemic response.

"People tend to cite their own personal protection as the reason for getting a gun, and the data shows that you're more at risk if you have a firearm in your home," Switzer said.

Emma Platoff contributed to this report.

Quality journalism doesn't come free

Yes, I'll donate today