After calls for an investigation from at least two advocacy groups, the Justice Department’s civil rights division will “monitor” an Arkansas gun range that declared itself a “Muslim-free zone” last fall.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations wrote the Justice Department last year about statements made by Jan Morgan, the owner of Gun Cave Shooting Range in Hot Springs. In the October letter, addressed to Attorney General Eric H. Holder, CAIR said that the range was “systematically banning Muslims from a place of business” and that doing so was “a violation of federal laws prohibiting racial and religious discrimination.”
The Arkansas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union also asked for a federal investigation.
The Justice Department confirmed that it was “monitoring the matter” in a brief e-mail to The Washington Post. However, the agency hasn’t indicated whether it has any plans to launch an investigation.
“We welcome this positive development and hope it leads to a thorough investigation of clear violations of the civil rights of American Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim by the gun range owner,” CAIR’s civil rights litigation director Jenifer Wicks said in a statement.
Morgan wrote in September that she wouldn’t “rent or sell a gun and hand ammunition to someone who aligns himself with a religion that commands him to kill me.”
In January, a South Asian father and son accused Morgan’s business of turning them away. The men, who didn’t want to be identified in local reports out of safety concerns, said they are Hindu and accused the Gun Cave Shooting Range of racial profiling.
“We’re brown; I don’t know if she assumed we were Muslim,” one of the men told the Arkansas Times, a weekly newspaper based in Little Rock. “When she first asked us, she said, ‘I would hope if you were Muslim you guys wouldn’t be cowards and would be upfront about it.'”
Morgan disputes the father and son’s account. She told The Post in January that the pair’s “strange” behavior led her to believe that “these people might not be safe handling firearms in this range,” and that her business doesn’t discriminate against customers based on their skin color.
Morgan also accused the men of applying to shoot at her range with an “agenda,” adding: “It was clearly designed to create the situation that occurred.”
The alleged incident prompted CAIR and the ACLU of Arkansas to again contact the Justice Department.
“Members of the public, including those who have been unlawfully excluded, are understandably fearful of publicly challenging the illegality of exclusion of perceived Muslims from this facility,” the ACLU chapter wrote.
The groups argued that Morgan’s “Muslim-free” policy violates the public accommodation provision of the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Morgan disagrees and said earlier this year that she runs the Gun Cave Shooting Range as a private club, with a base of dues-paying members. Because of this, Morgan believes her decision to exclude Muslims is protected by a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives policy that gives range owners the discretion to turn away potential customers who pose a threat to the safety of others.
For Morgan, who says that she independently read the Quran and concluded from it that Islam as a religion commands adherents to commit violent acts, that’s enough for her to justify a ban on all Muslims.
If the Gun Cave does come up against a legal challenge, Morgan’s ability to exclude Muslims could depend on whether she’s able to prove that her range is a private club that is not generally open to the public, Cornell University Law School Professor Michael Dorf told Fox News in January.
“A gun range that is generally open to the public but excludes Muslims — or any other group based on a forbidden classification — could not fairly say that everyone is a member except Muslims,” Dorf said.