Virginia GOP: Stay-at-home order is about attacking gun rights, not protecting health

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The Republican Party of Virginia accused Gov. Ralph Northam of 'tyrannical rule' for requiring social distancing.

The Republican Party of Virginia accused Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam of "tyrannical rule" on Monday, suggesting that his stay-at-home order to slow the spread of the coronavirus was really about undermining the Second Amendment.

In a press release titled "LIBERATE VIRGINIA," the party cited a tweet from Donald Trump last week urging Virginians to fight against the social distancing rules in place to slow the COVID-19 pandemic. Trump had, without explanation, told them to "save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!”

The Republican Party of Virginia release referred to what it called Northam's "Eastern Shore drawl" and urged reporters to "consider asking him if shutting down Virginia is actually for our health."

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It then made a series of false claims: "When the State shuts down thousands of private businesses but doesn’t lay off a single government employee, it’s not about your health"; "When the State bans dentists because its unsafe, but deems an abortion safe, it’s not about your health"; and "When the State prevents you from buying gardening supplies because it’s dangerous, but allows in person lottery ticket sales, it’s not about your health."

Northam, himself a medical doctor, was one of 42 governors — including some of the nation's most pro-gun Republicans — to issue stay-at-home orders in recent weeks. Like most others, he ordered the temporary closure of most nonessential businesses to slow the virus's spread, and allowed essential businesses to remain open to provide people access to essentials such as food and medical care.

But, contrary to the state GOP's claims, that order expressly listed lawn and garden stores as essential businesses. And while dental practices are still open for emergencies, the Virginia and American dental associations have both urged temporary closures for non-urgent care to protect the safety of dentists.

Last week, a prominent Virginia Republican state lawmaker posted a video suggesting that Northam was telling people to stay home not for public health reasons but to prevent angry opponents of new gun and abortion laws from storming the state Capitol. Several progressive bills passed by the new Democratic majorities in the legislature this year and signed by Northam go into effect on July 1. Among those are a handful of overwhelmingly popular new gun safety regulations, including background checks and extreme risk protection orders.

On Sunday, the Washington Post reported that many of the largest Facebook groups pushing for anti-quarantine protests are being organized by "a trio of far-right, pro-gun provocateurs." Facebook moved on Monday to shut down similar groups, noting that "events that defy government's guidance on social distancing aren’t allowed" on the platform.

Susan Swecker, chair of the Democratic Party of Virginia, responded on Monday, tweeting that the GOP's release was "Disgusting beyond words."

As of Monday, Virginia has already reported nearly 9,000 COVID-19 cases and seen at least 300 deaths.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.