Generally speaking one would have a hard time finding a common thread to pull when it comes to gun sales, pot sales, crafting material sales and video gaming supplies, but the rules are being rewritten in the time of coronavirus. What these things all have in common is this: Each is the focus on the “essential” versus “nonessential” fight as states move into quarantine mode.
“Essential” is a vague word that American capitalism is having a hard time coming to terms with. Right now, being deemed “non-essential” in states with stay-at-home orders to contain the coronavirus means giving up brick-and-mortar profits for an indeterminate time.
Overall, while there is a lack of a unified approach state-by-state for determining what is essential and what is non-essential, some patterns are emerging for everything from crafting and guns to marijuana and … video games.
Gun Stores: Arming Up During COVID-19
A man was arrested last week in the Alpharetta, Georgia, after allegedly pulling a gun on two women wearing masks at a post office. Apparently, he was worried they had the coronavirus.
There’s no nationwide consensus on whether gun shops are considered essential businesses that can remain open during stay-at-home orders. In some areas, authorities say gun shops aren’t essential businesses and should close during stay-at-home orders.
Some states are still debating the issue. Yet, some cities are keeping them open because they provide a “valuable public service.”
However, the majority of cities have invoked emergency powers allowing bans on gun sales, while others are suspending background checks for concealed carry permit applications.
On a national level, background checks spiked by 300% on March 16th when compared to the same day a year ago. In January and February, over 5.5 million background checks were conducted.
The National Rifle Association (NRA) filed a lawsuit against California after the state forced gun stores to close.
However, it’s not only doomsday preppers who are stocking up on weapons. Gun stores are reporting a sharp rise in the number of Asian-Americans purchasing firearms, fearing that the virus’s origins in China will spark a violent xenophobic backlash.
Gaming: Essentially Irrelevant
In Massachusetts, the Boston Globe reports that employees of GameStop, which is not an “essential” business or service, have been instructed to keep stores open and simply wrap their hands in plastic bags, continuing business as usual.
“Workers have been told to wrap a plastic bag around one hand to protect it from exposure to the virus, open the door a crack, and take the customer’s credit card, the manager said. Employees are then to run the card with a hand still encased in the bag, flip the bag inside out, leaving the card inside, put the purchase in the bag, and hand it back through the door,” the newspaper reported.
This is perhaps GameStop’s desperation because it was already in big trouble without the coronavirus lockdown. The internet has largely rendered it irrelevant. At the same time that reports began to circulate about GameStop desperately trying to stay among after being rendered nonessential, the specialist gaming retailer announced it would close at least 320 stores over the next 12 months–not because of the COVID-19 culling; rather, because it is trying to restructure after closing down 321 stores already.
Still, it managed to report a net income of $21 million at the end of the last financial year in February 2020.
Craft Stores: Crafting New Definitions of ‘Essential’
JoAnn Fabrics came up with a brilliant scheme to get itself rendered “essential” amid coronavirus shutdowns: It offered a free do-it-yourself mask and gown kit.
In Michigan, one of the most critical states right now, Governor Gretchen Witmer ordered all nonessential businesses to shut their doors on March 24th. That means any business that is not part of the state’s critical infrastructure, including the food system, energy, law enforcement, transportation, financial services or anything necessary to sustain and protect life.
Crafting is not widely thought to be among those categories. Still, Joann’s stayed open in the capital city of Lansing, while Michael’s, which did not create a “do-it-yourself mask and gown kit”, closed its doors in compliance with the order.
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Even Hobby Lobby closed down in state’s with shelter-in-place orders.
But none of it went down without a fight and a serious amount of lobbying.
According to Business Insider, Hobby Lobby founder David Green allegedly told employees that staying open was a message from God, who is said to have promised his wife they would be kept safe by divine intervention. God, however, only intervenes for the wealthy, because a memo obtained by Business Insider notes that no sick leave will be paid for workers amid the coronavirus outbreak.
Business Insider also noted that Joann Fabrics CEO falsely claimed that major hospitals had requested that the crafting giant help provide materials for masks and gowns–a claim that hospitals denied. Meanwhile, Michaels’ plea for “essential” status was based on the need for crafting at a time when there is nothing else to do.
All three are still operating in those states where they can get away with it.
Marijuana: Arguably the Most Essential of Them All
Immediately when states began enforcing shelter-in-place orders, pot sales spiked as people started stocking up for the long haul. But then they plunged.
Overall, however, marijuana will win this battle because of its medical dispensaries, which are allowed to stay open during the lockdown. Recreational use is not considered essential, but medical use gets a pass.
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By Michael Scott for Safehaven.com
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