Delaware rolls back restrictions on gun shops, auto dealerships

SMYRNA — Brian Brown was back in business Friday morning but didn’t have much left to offer.

The rush to buy guns and ammunition largely cleaned out his Smyrna Sporting Goods inventory.

Thus, the governor’s order Thursday night to ease sales restrictions barely impacted sales.

Just past 11 a.m., Mr. Brown said he’d seen one customer and fielded a few phone calls. A closed sign was still displayed at the downtown store and that was fine, he said.

“Everybody is looking for what nobody has — guns and ammunition,” he said. “Nobody has much of anything. I’m open but have nothing to sell.”

Through Gov. John Carney’s modifications, gun shops and automobile dealers in showrooms were allowed to meet potential buyers by appointment, with no more than two per 30 minutes.

According to Mr. Brown, the gun shops “were way ahead of the game” when it came to a sales surge prompted by the public’s growing coronavirus fears.

When they were deemed non-essential and shuttered earlier this week, Mr. Brown said he followed the order to “the letter of the law.” He said he wanted no part of cease-and-desist orders reportedly delivered to other similar businesses.

Handguns were all bought up, Mr. Brown said, along with 9mm ammunition.

“I sold multiple products prior to the shutdown and can’t hardly reorder anything anyway because our distributors were out of supplies,” he said. “One of my main distributors closed down completely.”

During the closure, Mr. Brown said he went to the downtown store on Main Street to answer calls and take UPS deliveries, but the business was closed. Purchases made the week prior and awaiting federal background check confirmations were in limbo.

“I’m three to four months ahead of a typical business year,” Mr. Brown said.

Cease and desist

As of Friday, the Delaware Emergency Management Agency had sent three cease-and-desist orders to businesses and the Division of Public Health sent one. The first step was for Delaware State Police to provide in-person warnings to the business. The warnings were initially ignored, DEMA spokesman Jeff Sands said.

Dover Police delivered a cease and desist order “within the last two days to a local merchant and that business has since complied with the order,” spokesman Master Cpl. Mark Hoffman said.

“We are focused on education and cooperation by individuals and businesses,” according to Mr. Sands.

According to the governor’s spokesman Jon Starkey, business status determinations are “a collaborative process with the Division of Small Business in the lead. Public safety is our top priority. When possible, we are keeping businesses operating within the bounds of the health guidance.”

Cease-and-desist orders are issued by state agencies, which receive legal counsel — including drafting assistance — from Civil Deputy Attorneys General, spokesman Mat Marshal said. The orders are delivered by law enforcement.

“We hope that the receipt of a cease and desist would alleviate the need for any additional action,” Mr. Sands said. “However, anyone who violates the directives may be subject to criminal prosecution or other civil enforcement remedies up to and including arrest or involuntary closure of a business.”

There is an appeals process regarding essential/non-essential business designations. Written requests can be emailed to for consideration, with a decision due within a week.

“Generally cease and desists would be non-public and related to a law enforcement investigation — therefore, exempt as investigation files,” Mr. Sands said. “We have waived that exception but a waiver does not set a precedent for future decisions.”

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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