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Clovis Mayor to Gov. Newsom: Don't Shut Down Gun Stores
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By David Taub, Senior Reporter
Published 4 years ago on
April 16, 2020

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Clovis Mayor Drew Bessinger is asking Gov. Gavin Newsom not to restrict sales of guns and ammunition during the COVID-19 shelter-in-place order.

“I am writing you to strongly oppose any such action,” Bessinger wrote in a letter sent to Newsom on Wednesday.

Bessinger Concerned About Release of Inmates

“Taking our citizens’ right to purchase firearms and ammunition under the guise of an emergency order would embolden criminals and frighten an already stressed citizenry.” — Clovis Mayor Drew Bessinger in a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom

In his one-page letter, Bessinger expressed concern about the number of prisoners released from Fresno County jail under a state Judicial Council mandate. Hundreds have either been cut loose or will be released because of the Judicial Council’s $0 bail order for many offenses.

“These releases, coupled with the recent releases from California State Prison, will dramatically increase the potential that our citizens will be victimized by these criminals,” Bessinger wrote. “These people have already shown an inability to live amongst their fellow citizens in a peaceful and lawful manner.

“Taking our citizens’ right to purchase firearms and ammunition under the guise of an emergency order would embolden criminals and frighten an already stressed citizenry,” Bessinger said.

Bessinger, the police chief at Fresno Yosemite International Airport, referred to his lengthy law enforcement career in the letter. He wrote that he has an “ethical and moral responsibility to oppose any order that endangered the citizens I am sworn to protect.”

Letter Circulating to Halt Sales

Newsom faces pressure to list gun and ammo purchases as non-essential.

Assemblyman Miguel Santiago (D-Los Angeles) is circulating a letter, asking Newsom to halt sales.

“Adding more firearms to our current state of affairs perpetuates the cycle of public panic and impulsive action. An increased population of firearms in our state not only poses a greater risk to children and families who are largely confined to their homes, but also to our communities facing racially motivated or otherwise targeted hate. The people of California are grappling with a new reality brought on by COVID19 and we have a responsibility to respond to our state’s need for confidence and certainty. By suspending firearm and ammunition sales and arming Californians with strong safeguards on public health and safety reinforced by state peace officers, we can mitigate undue risks to our public,” a draft copy of the letter says.

The letter was leaked by gun rights groups earlier this week.

Santiago’s office says the letter has not been sent, but the information in it is generally correct.

Newsom Defers to Local Sheriffs

A spokesman for the governor deferred to his prior statements during his daily news conferences when asked to respond to Bessinger’s letter.

On March 25, a reporter asked Newsom whether gun stores should remain open.

“I believe (in) people’s right to bear arms and I believe in people exercising that right. … I’ll defer to the sheriffs in their respective jurisdiction for that clarification.”

When asked Wednesday about Santiago’s letter, Newsom stayed consistent.

“We made the determination on directives going back weeks now,” Newsom said. “I defer to the sheriffs and their determination at the local level.”

That sits well with Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims.

“I appreciate the governor deferring to local control on making these decisions. I believe businesses that sell weapons and ammunition to qualified community members are essential service businesses,” Mims told GV Wire.

Gun Stores Remain Open in Clovis

Jacob Belemjian

“The firearms industry and firearms owners are not a quiet group and they will not go quietly into that good night. If the governor tries (halt sales), he will have some very interesting things to deal with.”Jacob Belemjian, The Firing Line

Gun stores remain open in the city of Clovis, absent a direct order to close down.

Jacob Belemjian, owner of the Firing Line, says his gun shop and range are open, but business is slow after an initial surge of gun buying.

He urges Newsom not to alter gun sales, citing the Constitution.

“The governor does not have the authority to force anyone close or to do anything,” Belemjian said. “The firearms industry and firearms owners are not a quiet group and they will not go quietly into that good night. If the governor tries (halt sales), he will have some very interesting things to deal with.”

The Firing Line is practicing social distancing by limiting only three people inside at a time, and spacing out shooters in the range at least six feet apart.

“We’re not stupid. We’re doing what we’re supposed to be doing,” Belemjian said.

Belemjian has not had to reduce staff but did apply for federal CARES Act funding.

Status in Fresno County, City

The city of Fresno has a specific list of essential and non-essential businesses. While gun stores aren’t specifically mentioned in either list, the city added a caveat that any retail store not deemed essential is not allowed to operate.

However, the city allowed sporting goods stores — some of which sell firearms and ammo — to open after initially deeming them non-essential businesses.

The county has no guidelines on whether gun stores should be considered essential or not.

Read Bessinger’s Letter to Newsom


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David Taub,
Senior Reporter
Curiosity drives David Taub. The award-winning journalist might be shy, but feels mighty with a recorder in his hand. He doesn't see it his job to "hold public officials accountable," but does see it to provide readers (and voters) the information needed to make intelligent choices. Taub has been honored with several writing awards from the California News Publishers Association. He's just happy to have his stories read. Joining GV Wire in 2016, Taub covers politics, government and elections, mainly in the Fresno/Clovis area. He also writes columns about local eateries (Appetite for Fresno), pro wrestling (Off the Bottom Rope), and media (Media Man). Prior to joining the online news source, Taub worked as a radio producer for KMJ and PowerTalk 96.7 in Fresno. He also worked as an assignment editor for KCOY-TV in Santa Maria, California, and KSEE-TV in Fresno. He has also worked behind the scenes for several sports broadcasts, including the NCAA basketball tournament, and the Super Bowl. When not spending time with his family, Taub loves to officially score Fresno Grizzlies games. Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, Taub is a die-hard Giants and 49ers fan. He graduated from the University of Michigan with dual degrees in communications and political science. Go Blue! You can contact David at 559-492-4037 or at Send an Email

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