Weapons retailers in California are suing the state over a ban on the display of images of handguns – even the word “handgun” – in what the business owners say is a violation of the First Amendment.
The complaint brought by Calguns Foundation and others is on behalf of Tracy Rifle and Pistol LLC, Michael Baryla, Ten Percent Firearms, Wesley Morris, Sacramento Black Rifle Inc., Robert Adams, Prk Arms Inc. and Jeffrey Mullen.
Named as defendants are Attorney General Kamala Harris and Stephen Lindley of the state Department of Justice Bureau of Firearms.
The case isn’t over the right to own guns, which is protected by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
It’s over the images. The word.
The state bans gun stores from putting up signs telling customers they sell handguns. Images of and descriptions of rifles and shotguns are fine with the state.
“I am one of the most heavily regulated and inspected businesses in existence, but it’s still illegal for me to show customers that I sell handguns until after they walk in the door,” said Baryla, who owns Tracy Rifle and Pistol.
“That’s about as silly a law as you could imagine, even here in California.”
The complaint filed by the Benbrook Law Group and noted First Amendment expert Eugene Volokh alleges violations of the First Amendment.
For example, Tracy Rifle recently was cited for having images of three handguns in signs in the store window. An adjacent window with an image of an AR-15 rifle was not cited.
Lead counsel Bradley Benbrook said: “The First Amendment prevents the government from telling businesses it disfavors that they can’t engage in truthful advertising. This case follows a long line of Supreme Court cases protecting such disfavored businesses from that type of censorship.”
The foundation said similar laws are on the books in Washington, D.C., Texas and Pennsylvania, but California appears to be the only place where they are being enforced.
The Second Amendment Foundation said they are supporting the action.
“By prohibiting firearms dealers from displaying on-site handgun advertisements, Section 26820 (of state law) violates the right of firearms dealers to disseminate truthful, nonmisleading commercial information about a lawful, constitutionally protected product,” the complaint explains.
“A state cannot legislate political correctness at the expense of a fundamental, constitutionally protected civil right,” said SAF founder Alan M. Gottlieb. “SAF is delighted to offer its financial support of this case.”
It would “serve as a reminder that firearms dealers have First Amendment rights as well as Second Amendment rights,” he said. “Even in California.”
Also supporting the action was the California Association of Federal Firearms Licensees.
“Even if California believes that buying a handgun is a bad decision, ‘the ‘fear that people would make bad decisions if given truthful information’ cannot justify content-based burdens on speech,'” the complaint states.
“Section 26820 imposes a content- and speaker-based burden on protected expression that is, in practice, viewpoint-discriminatory, and imposes an intolerable burden on the right of firearms dealers to advertise accurate information about the sale of handguns. So long as responsible, law-abiding adults may purchase handguns in California – a right secured by the Second Amendment – the First Amendment prevents the state from enforcing Section 26820’s ban on on-site handgun advertising.”
The complaint says California law “prevents firearms dealers from advertising even the most basic commercial information – ‘Handguns for Sale’ – at their place of business” and that “violates the First Amendment in multiple ways.”