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NRA MIA? Virginia Gun Ranges Back in Court

With or without the NRA, SafeSide gun range asks Virginia courts for the right to open.

Virginia gun range SafeSide continues its fight to remain open during a statewide lockdown order.  On April 27, a Virginia judge ordered the state’s governor and police not to enforce a statewide ban on indoor-gun-range operations. Judge F. Patrick Yeatts’ order expires on May 8, the same day Gov. Ralph Northam’s executive order (EO) mandating the closure was set to expire. The governor has, however, extended the EO until May 15 at the earliest, leaving SafeSide back in the sights of the rabidly anti-gun Northam. The range must now return to court to seek continued protection from police who would shut them down.

Northam’s Executive Order 53 explicitly listed indoor shooting ranges among “recreational and entertainment businesses” that would have to remain closed. Initially, his order was set to expire at 11:59 p.m. on April 23; however, the governor extended those closures to May 8, and then to May 15. Striking down the closure order against SafeSide, Judge Yeatts said the governor was acting outside his authority and against the gun rights both Virginia and the United States recognize.

Back to Court

Mitchell Tyler, an owner of the SafeSide range, told Liberty Nation in an exclusive interview that he hoped other firing ranges would be included in any new keep-open order. Previously, when SafeSide sued Northam, the ruling covered only that one shooting range. Judge Yeatts declined to add any others, much less issue a statewide correction. That suit was brought by a coalition of the Virginia Citizens’ Defense League (VCDL), Gun Owners of America (GOA), and the Association of Virginia Gun Ranges.

VCDL President Philip Van Cleave told LN another court challenge was coming.  Tyler wondered why “if ranges are so dangerous, how come law enforcement are still able to come?” He said it seemed like a situation where “the king’s men can have guns, but not the peasants.” Tyler confirmed previous LN reporting that many gun owners making their first purchase in response to the lockdown needed training and practice.

SafeSide has no problems operating safely within guidelines and restrictions imposed on other businesses. Tyler told me that “most of what we do for lead works for COVID,” and “we were social distancing before it was a buzzword.”

Where Is the NRA?

The 900-pound gorilla in the gun-rights movement is strangely nowhere to be found on the issue. The National Rifle Association (NRA), which did not reply to a request for comment on this story, has done nothing to challenge Northam. While the organization must pick its battles, the NRA is headquartered in Fairfax, VA, and has closed its range according to the governor’s order. When I asked what SafeSide has heard, I was told: “It’s crickets from the NRA.”

Tyler was surprised that the Commonwealth has not appealed the ruling and speculated the limited nature was the reason, expressing his hope that the NRA would join the fight — and soon. This time, with or without the NRA, the coalition of gun-rights activists will try to convince Judge Yeatts to expand protections for other Virginians and other ranges. Until then, SafeSide is taking reservations for range lanes online.


The author has been a member of the VCDL, GOA, and NRA.


Read more from Scott D. Cosenza.

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