Gov. Charlie Baker cited an 118-year-old court ruling during a yellow fever outbreak as part of his rejection for the re-opening of gun retailers in Massachusetts amid the coronavirus pandemic, among other reasons in a response to gun shops and customers in a federal lawsuit.

Gun shop owners, customers and firearms groups are suing Massachusetts over the closure of firearms retailers considered “non-essential” amid statewide closures through May 18.

Baker, in a response written by an assistant attorney general Tuesday, cites health and social distancing concerns to keep gun shops closed, and points to a 1902 Supreme Court decision against a company whose ship wasn’t allowed to dock in Louisiana.

A board of health quarantined the ship whose passengers sailed from a country that was a source of yellow fever outbreaks in Louisiana, and the Supreme Court denied the ship company’s allegation of violation of “due process,” protecting government powers.

“Compagnie Francaise makes clear that the Due Process Clause does not require government officials to take such time-consuming steps before acting on an emergency basis to stem a public health crisis (yellow fever),” attorney Julia Kobick wrote, referring to the name of the company.

Baker also pointed to ammunition sales still available at Walmarts across the state and the lack of a ban on private gun sales against gun retailers whose stores are usually too cramped to allow social distancing, court filings said.

Hampden Police Chief Jeff Farnsworth, who submitted an affidavit as president of Massachusetts Chiefs of Police, also dismissed plaintiffs’ allegations of rising crime and the need for gun purchases by law enforcement. Farnsworth wrote local departments usually purchase firearms directly from distributors, who remain open.

“There has not been a surge in crime, including violent crime, since the Covid-19 epidemic first came to public attention,” Farnsworth wrote. “If anything, crime in Massachusetts has decreased.”

An attorney for plaintiffs in the case did not respond to a request for comment.

Kobick, writing for Baker, emphasized the gun retailer closures were temporary.

“Closure of some of these institutions, like bookstores and schools, may implicate constitutional rights,” Kobick wrote, “but the health and welfare of the Massachusetts citizenry depend on these temporary closures.”


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