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Northland shooting range caught in crosshairs of 'Stay at Home' order

While firearms dealerships are allowed to stay open, gun ranges and clubs are not.

Dead On Arms owner Chad Walsh works on an AR-15 firearm behind one of the counters at his shop earlier this year. While the firearms dealership is allowed to stay open under Gov. Tim Walz's "Stay at Home" order, the shooting range must close. (File / News Tribune)

Chad Walsh with Dead On Arms firearms and indoor shooting range heard from his friends in law enforcement that the St. Louis County Sheriff’s Office planned on paying him a visit, and his first reaction was one of shock.

“I said, ‘What?’” Walsh said. “I don’t invite no trouble at all. I’m just trying to run a business. We have employees we’ve got to feed, we’ve got a family of our own we’ve got to feed and we’re American citizens.”

At 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Walsh said he got a call from the Sheriff’s Office telling him that his gun dealership was fine, but he had to shut down his shooting range because it was in violation of Gov. Tim Walz’s "Stay at Home" order in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Walsh, 43, who co-owns Dead on Arms with his wife, Laura, was initially defiant but after consulting with his attorney, Forrest Hutchinson, he decided to back off and close his shooting range, which he said accounts for about half his business. The gun store will remain open and Walsh hopes he will be able to retain his six employees.

“If it looks like we don’t have a leg to stand on, I’m not going to throw good money after bad,” Walsh said.


Dead On Arms is located 8 miles west of Proctor on U.S. Highway 2. Walsh said it is the only indoor shooting range in St. Louis County. While a Trump administration advisory listed the firearms industry as essential and allowed for shooting ranges, the Walz order essentially trumps Trump, stating “gun ranges and clubs must remain closed.” States are not obliged to follow the federal advisory.

This irked Walsh, who feels the governor’s order oversteps its bounds. He noted that greenhouses were recently given an exemption, something he sees as a double standard.

“You’re not sitting on top of somebody breathing down their throat. Only one person can shoot the gun at a time,” Walsh said. “There is a stall between each shooter. I mean, how is it any different than when they come to our gun store, stand at the counter and talk to the guy five feet away? They practice better safe distancing out on the range than any retail store. It doesn’t make any sense.”

If Walsh would have been ticketed it appears he would have been the first one cited in the area.

St. Louis County Sheriff Ross Litman said most if not all law enforcement agencies have received complaints. He added that the focus isn’t just on businesses, but people need to be aware of the stay-at-home provisions of the governor’s executive orders. He said the objective of his office is compliance, but to his knowledge, no one in the county has been cited.

The Superior Police Department has given verbal warnings to several business and restaurants, but everyone complied and no citations were given. The Duluth Police Department hasn’t written any warnings or citations.

Walsh said staying open would constitute a misdemeanor, with a fine up to $1,000 or imprisonment up to 90 days.

For Walsh, a former police officer and U.S. Army veteran, the entire flap goes beyond just his store. While he would love to fight it, he couldn’t justify it given the expense.


“I called the deputy back and said, ‘I had a conversation with my attorney and this is our stance on it,’ and he said, ‘Well, your opinion is wrong,’” Walsh said. “I said, ‘Really? You work for who? You work for the governor, or do you work for the citizens of this community?

“We’ve got American citizens practicing social distancing here. We’re doing everything that the government is requiring. As an American citizen, with second amendment rights, and with protections under the law, I don’t see where there is a need for indoor shooting ranges to be shut down.”

Jon Nowacki is a former reporter for the Duluth News Tribune
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