Gun Stores Challenge California Law Barring Handgun Advertisements

Stock Photo of the Consitution of the United States and Feather Quill220px-CriminologygunglockThere is an interesting first amendment case developing in California where gun store owners are challenging a California Penal Code section 26820, a law from 1923 that bans gun stores from putting up signs advertising the sale of handguns. Shotguns can be advertised but not handguns. Four dealers are claiming that their freedom of speech is being curtailed on an arbitrary basis. They have a point.

The lawsuit in the Eastern District of California in Sacramento names California Attorney General Kamala Harris and Stephen Lindley, who heads the state Department of Justice’s Bureau of Firearms.

As shown by Citizens United, there has been a shift in favor of speech rights of corporations though there remain questions over the difference between commercial and noncommercial speech. Other states like Pennsylvania, Texas and Washington, D.C. have such laws which reportedly are rarely enforced.

Standing does not appear to be a serious question. Tracy Rifle and Pistol, a gun store and firing range in San Joaquin County, was recently cited for having pictures of three handguns in window signs that could be seen from outside the store.

The bar on gun advertising generally is difficult square with the first amendment. The isolation of handguns add a layer of arbitrariness. This is magnified by the fact that the signs are advertising products at the heart of an individual right to own handguns.

The challengers rely on cases like Sorrell that state “the ‘fear that people would make bad decisions if given truthful information’ cannot justify content-based burdens on speech.” Sorrell v. IMS Health Inc., 564 U.S. ___, 131 S. Ct. 2653, 2670-71 (2011) (“The choice ‘between the dangers of suppressing information, and the dangers of its misuse if it is freely available’ is one that ‘the First Amendment makes for us.’”)(quoting Virginia Bd. of Pharmacy v. Virginia Citizens Consumer Council, Inc., 425 U.S. 748, 770 (1976)).

In my view, the challengers should win, which could lead to challenges in these other jurisdictions.

Here is the complaint.

37 thoughts on “Gun Stores Challenge California Law Barring Handgun Advertisements”

  1. One has to wonder why such a statute was codified to begin with. If the effect was to curtail purchasing of handguns, which one could only expect to be the underlying legislative intent, the existence of the gun shop alone would lead a person interested in possibly buying firearms to patronize the business. The absence of an image of a pistol is not going to dissuade a person from purchasing from a placed named Tracy Rifle and Pistol.

    I wonder what kind of defense the state will present. Perhaps maybe it might argue in part the notion of community standards or protection. The courts in our state took a negative look at community standards as being the basis for such. I don’t remember the exact court references off hand but it was about twenty five years ago.

  2. Getting a serious constitutional law discussion going here is becoming an increasingly difficult task. My take is that the statute is unconstitutional and the State of California will lose. Defining the issue in terms of liberals versus conservatives misses the point and cheapens the debate. That sort of nonsensical argumentation is becoming far too common and needs to end.

    1. Always remember, we are talking CA, I live there. We had Brown for eight years long ago (moonbeam). Now another eight years (why?). Businesses are going to Texas to save tax money. Hollywood doesn’t make movies here. But we treat illegals well; better than our poor citizens. Hospitals and Doctors still here. We must have lots of people with private insurance, at least in the southern part.

      1. Sandi – I thought the southern part of CA was going to create its own state.

        1. Actually, I think the northern part wanted to split. San Francisco area up. But, the south has most of the money. Above the wine country it isn’t very populated.

  3. Darren-

    I’ve heard stories (no personal experience, mind you) that some people use (hopefully unloaded) pistols as sex toys. Some enterprising business person could combine an ad for pistols for use in the traditional way and as a sex toy!

  4. Paul, is this the wrong account of the matter?

    The Gilbert Public School Board voted 3-2 to edit a chapter in the textbook “Campbell Biology: Concepts & Connections” that includes information about abstinence, contraception, vasectomies, and abortion-inducing medication as methods of preventing unwanted pregnancy.

    According to the school board president, this likely marks the first time that a textbook in the state has been edited under the new law, which prevents school districts from using any materials that do not “present childbirth and adoption as preferred options to elective abortion.”

    Regardless, it seems rather odd that those two pages were that far from the norm. I think those who made the law and voted to remove the pages are further from the norm than most Americans….

    1. Lloyd – Gilbert is Mormon country. We are not governed by coastal norms from NYC or SF. However, what does that have to do with a nanny state law from CA about hand guns?

  5. I hate it. But, yes, the gun stores are right on this one. It’s not even a close call. Ugh!

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