Organizers have canceled The Nation’s Gun Show scheduled to be held at the Dulles Expo Center this weekend after Governor Ralph Northam announced new group size restrictions at the end of last week. The organizers sued Northam and asked for an injunction that would allow them to hold the event, arguing that Northam’s emergency powers do not include the power to infringe the Second Amendment. However, the court denied the request for an injunction.
“Yesterday morning we were given [the] all-clear from Fairfax County Health Department who reasonably listened to our arguments from Monday and Tuesday, then called back to say we could operate as a brick and mortar retail establishment,” organizers wrote in an announcement on Thursday.
“Then much later that day the Governor and the Virginia Attorney General stepped in to close all the similar venues in the state of Virginia as well as ours inflicting incredible hardships in the entire state. We fought back and went to court at great expense and lost. We respectfully disagree with the judge’s opinion.”
Opponents said the show’s full capacity could have reached 25,000 people, but attorneys pointed to an August event where only around 12,000 attended over several days.
Attorney David Browne spoke in a virtual hearing in the Fairfax Circuit Court on Thursday morning. He said, “[Showmasters Gun Shows] has spent months planning and preparing for this show, [Showmaster’s President Annette Elliott] has repeatedly sought guidance and some kind of clarification from both state and local health authorities regarding whether the gun show falls under some particular category of the executive order, and up until yesterday, nobody from any health authority would give her an answer.”
Browne argued that a gun show shouldn’t be treated any differently than any other retail businesses.
In their brief, Showmasters’ attorneys wrote that a similar gun show was held safely in August. “Each occurrence of The Nation’s Gun Show is a large and highly complex event that requires months of meticulous planning among hundreds of participants, vendors, staff, and partner businesses. For example, The Nation’s Gun Show held August 21-23, 2020 involved no fewer than 60 event staff, 530 exhibitors, and hosted over 12,500 attendees —and was safely and successfully executed even while being severely limited by the ‘phase three’ COVID-19 emergency restrictions that were in place at the time.”
The attorneys also argued that the right to sell firearms is protected in the Virginia code, and that even under emergency powers, the code does not authorize infringement of that right.
However, Judge Brett Kassabian said, “The executive order does not infringe on the right of citizens to keep and bear arms, which would also include the transfer or sales of those arms. It simply applies an occupancy limit to do so at the venue that the plaintiff has selected in this case.”
He concluded, “The injunction is not in the public interest. I find that it is in the private interest of the plaintiffs. To allow thousands to roam unchecked during the middle of the most serious health crisis this county has suffered in the past one hundred years is not in the public interest.”
In a press release, Attorney General Mark Herring said, “This enormous gun show could have very quickly become a superspreader event and this win will help keep hundreds if not thousands of Virginians safe and healthy.”
Organizers wrote on Wednesday, “The Dulles Expo Center is 130,000 square feet building and the Walmart beside us is an 80,000 square feet building, we are 50,000 square feet bigger. The Walmart beside us has one giant aisle and the all the rest of the aisles are an average of six feet or less. We have wider aisles, 14 feet average, so we have more space to social distance. Also, our show and the building management are self-imposing a 50% occupancy limit.”
In a Facebook post Thursday, Virginia Beach lawyer and gun-rights advocate Tim Anderson wrote, “There are no limitations to the amount of people who can be in a Walmart – but the Governor says no more than 250 at a gun show and the Court agreed.”
Anderson told The Virginia Star that courts have been giving the Governor broad authority when similar issues arise. “The courts have no appetite for challenging the Governor’s executive authority,” he said.
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