Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Guns and golf: How are non-essential businesses determined?

Gov. Ralph Northam ordered non-essential businesses to close in light of the coronavirus (COVID-19), including indoor shooting ranges. But the Virginia Citizen's Defense League wants to change that. (WYDaily/Wikimedia Commons)
Gov. Ralph Northam ordered non-essential businesses to close in light of the coronavirus (COVID-19), including indoor shooting ranges. But the Virginia Citizen’s Defense League wants to change that. (WYDaily/Wikimedia Commons)

While many businesses have had to close down or alter their operations due to the coronavirus pandemic, a gun rights activist group is arguing that indoor gun ranges shouldn’t be one of them.

The Virginia Citizens Defense League is seeking a temporary injunction against Gov. Ralph Northam to allow indoor gun ranges to reopen during the current state of emergency. 

On March 23, Northam ordered the closure of non-essential businesses that are determined as recreational or entertainment, including indoor shooting ranges. 

Phillip Van Cleave, VCDL president said that Northam is violating Title 44 of Virginia Code which prohibits the governor from affecting second amendment rights during a state of emergency.

“So he closed the indoor ranges by saying they’re just entertainment, which is ridiculous,” Van Cleave said. “Ranges are where you go to practice shooting abilities which can save a life. [They’re] where new people learn how to use their guns safely.”

Van Cleave said the VCDL sent messages to Northam’s office asking him to reclassify indoor ranges in the order to take indoor ranges off the list, but the organization didn’t hear anything back.

“They didn’t say anything,” Van Cleave said. “Crickets chirping, nothing.”

So the organization has taken to filing a temporary injunction to try and get the order changed.

In the complaint, the organization, among other parties, argue that Northam’s emergency powers do not grant him the power to suspend civil liberties guaranteed by the constitution.

However, Richard Schragger, a professor of Constitutional law at the University of Virginia, said he would be surprised if a court held that closing down indoor gun ranges violated the 2nd Amendment during a pandemic.

“Closing gun ranges doesn’t violate anyone’s right to own a weapon,” he said. “It’s a reasonable regulation in the space of a major public health crisis.”

Schragger said the Virginia Supreme Court has held there is an individual right to own a gun, but it has been clear on the restrictions of that ownership. 

“Obviously the government has the power to shut down a lot of businesses, many of which are ones that people think are quite important,” Schragger said. “The fact that these businesses have some connection to guns doesn’t provide a right to engage in those businesses or participate in those activities.” 

But Van Cleave said while these indoor ranges can seem like entertainment, they actually provide a valuable service for those who own guns.

“It could be used for pure entertainment, but the truth is even while you’re doing that your skills are being sharpened,” he said. “You’re doing something repetitively and in a safe environment.” 

But Schragger said the topic of essential and non-essential, or what can be determined as purely entertainment, is something being discussed in many states. He said that could be why in some places, while indoor gun ranges are closed, golf courses remain open. 

“Generally the government’s determinations of what are essential or not are provided with a great deal of deference of the courts,” he said. “They only need to meet a rational basis. It might be because people can do social distancing on a gun range but not a golf course, I’m not sure.”

Van Cleave argued indoor gun ranges also are equipped to create the necessary social distancing. Many of the indoor ranges already have protective barriers between lanes and feature an air filtration system that blows the air away from a person’s face. He said these ranges could go even further to create space between people by allowing guests to participate in alternating rows.

Other recreational facilities on the Peninsula have closed due to coronavirus concerns. So why are golf courses like the Newport News Golf Club at Deer Run still open?

“We base decisions on the opening or closure of park resources on information provided by federal and state authorities as well as state and national professional associations,” William Roche, assistant director for parks for the city’s Parks, Recreation and Tourism department, wrote in an email Monday. “While parks and trails are open, with social distancing required, the city models the safety precautions demonstrated by the majority of other municipalities and has closed many of the resources within the parks.”

Roche added Northam stated golf courses are the exception because the size of the golf course allows for social distancing.

The Newport News Golf Club is run by the city and while it remains open to the public, the golf course has implemented additional safety measures for its visitors.

The golf course closed the Clubhouse at Deer Run including the Pro Shop and indoor facilities, recommended golfers to wear gloves and maintain social distancing measures of six feet.

“While our golf carts and range balls are sanitized after each use, we encourage you to use additional precautions to ensure your good health,” according to the golf course website’s COVID-19 Update.

Besides closing the clubhouse and recommending the use of gloves, how else has the golf course adapted to the coronavirus pandemic?

Some examples are removing rakes from sand traps, elevating the cup so the ball does not need to be removed and asking people not to touch the pins, Roche wrote.

For social distancing, Roche said golfers need to call in tee times, one driver is recommended per cart and walkers are allowed to use the Deer Run Course.

“Calling for a tee-time is highly recommended,” Roche wrote. “Due to limiting tee-times and spacing groups, it’s not uncommon that the course must turn away walk-ups who do not have a tee time.”

The final tee time is 3 p.m. but Roche noted it will adjust with the increase in daylight hours. Previously golfers could request tee times online and walkers were not permitted on golf courses.

When asked if there had been an increase or decrease in the amount of people using the golf course, Roche said the interest has increased but the actually number of people is similar to previous years due to the facility’s limited tee times and social distancing measures.

“Our Deer Run Championship Course offers public access to ample greenspace and fresh air, which we believe will promote good health, stress relief, and opportunity for proper social distancing standards during this time of uncertainty,” according to the website’s COVID-19 Update. “Although most indoor City facilities are closed to the public until further notice, we welcome you to take advantage of the outdoors.”


Alexa Doiron
Alexa Doiron
Alexa Doiron is a multimedia reporter for WYDaily. She graduated from Roanoke College and is currently working on a master’s degree in English at Virginia Commonwealth University. Alexa was born and raised in Williamsburg and enjoys writing stories about local flair. She began her career in journalism at the Warhill High School newspaper and, eight years later, still loves it. After working as a news editor in Blacksburg, Va., Alexa missed Williamsburg and decided to come back home. In her free time, she enjoys reading Jane Austen and playing with her puppy, Poe. Alexa can be reached at

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