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Coronavirus: LA Sheriff Suspends Efforts To Close Gun Stores

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — Confusion swirled as the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department Tuesday temporarily suspended its efforts to close gun stores during the coronavirus outbreak.

The decision was made as the county counsel's office works to clarify whether gun stores are considered essential businesses under California Gov. Gavin Newsom's statewide order, a sheriff's spokesperson confirmed to CBS2 Tuesday night.

However, L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said he's deploying more deputies to patrol the county because gun stores, strip clubs, and other venues are not complying with social distancing guidelines to fight COVID-19.

Villanueva initially told reporters at a Tuesday news conference that some businesses not related to providing food, prescriptions, or health care were violating state and local orders. He emphasized that only essential businesses are permitted to remain open under state and local orders restricting public gatherings.

Several gun shops, nightclubs, bars, strip clubs and other non-designated businesses had been caught in violation of Newsom's stay-at-home order, Villanueva said.

However, on Tuesday night, the sheriff's department suspended its effort to close gun stores as the county counsel's office examines the issue, but deputies will still be on the lookout for other businesses violating the shutdown order and will be enforcing social distancing among those businesses that are allowed to remain open.

The sheriff has ordered 1,300 more deputies to be deployed on patrol throughout L.A. County. Violators may be cited if certain non-essential businesses do not close their doors, Villanueva said.

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"There are hundreds of businesses which, through no fault of their own, do not fall under the governor's definition of critical infrastructure," Villanueva said in a statement. "As a result, I have instructed my deputies to enforce closures of businesses which have disregarded the governor's order."

Meanwhile, folks lined up outside gun shops this week in Burbank. Many of those in line to purchase a firearm were first-time owners.

"I decided to buy a gun for protection," said Irene Zamorano, a South Pasadena resident. "I have a family -- quite a large family and these uncertain times, you just never know. [The] responsible thing to do is be prepared."

Even with the uptick in business, gun store owners weren't sure if they were allowed to remain open.

"Right now we're saying day-to-day, but it's really hour-to-hour," said David Schwartz, owner of Burbank Ammo and Guns. "We're seeing a lot of first time buyers. We're not exactly sure why they're buying or what's caused them to come -- but we are here to support them."

It wasn't immediately clear how the enforcement actions would impact other cities within L.A. County that failed to comply with Newsom's order.

Villanueva also announced approximately 1,700 inmates with less than 30 days left on their sentences would be released from county jails in order to slow the spread of COVID-19 among the jail population.

(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)

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