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Alaska Legislature passes bill to keep gun stores open during disasters

Alaska lawmakers on Wednesday passed legislation that seeks to block state and local officials from closing gun stores during disasters declared by the governor, unless such closures apply to all other businesses.

The bill, HB61, is a response to business closures in Alaska and other states during the pandemic, according to a statement from House Speaker Cathy Tilton, a Wasilla Republican and the bill’s sponsor. Several other states have adopted similar bills.

The bill was one of the last debated by lawmakers in the waning days of the 121-day regular legislative session, which was set to end Wednesday. It was backed by the lobbying arm of the National Rifle Association and criticized as a “special rights” bill by state Sen. Jesse Kiehl, a Juneau Democrat.

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The measure additionally states that in situations in which a governor has declared a disaster emergency, the governor, state agencies or municipalities cannot issue orders barring people from possessing or using guns or other weapons for personal use or issue orders that limit the sale of guns, ammunition or other weapons for personal use.

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Prohibitions on gun possession would still apply to individuals who are otherwise restricted from having guns.

Jan Caulfield, a volunteer from Juneau with the group Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, called the bill unnecessary. Lawmakers could have better used their time addressing issues such as high rates of gun deaths, she said.

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