California Gun Dealers Challenge Law Banning Window Displays

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posted on November 20, 2014
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Four California gun dealers have filed a lawsuit in federal court against California Attorney General Kamala Harris for violation of First Amendment Civil rights. The plaintiffs are challenging a decades-old California law that prohibits the images of handguns placed in public view outside business that sell firearms.

On Sept 12, Tracy Rifle and Pistol, a firearm retailer and indoor shooting range located about 60 miles east of San Francisco in San Joaquin County, was cited by the Department of Justice's Bureau of Firearms for displaying pictures of handguns in its windows, according to the inspector's report. California Penal Code section 26820, first enacted in 1923, bans gun stores from displaying signs advertising the sale of handguns -- but not shotguns or rifles. An adjacent window image at Tracy Rifle with a photograph of an AR-15 rifle was not cited by DOJ.

Similar statutes banning handgun displays remain on the books in Pennsylvania, Texas and Washington, D.C., but the California DOJ is apparently the lone state agency currently enforcing those provisions.  The lawsuit claims the restriction violates gun stores' First Amendment rights, by severely restricting truthful, non-misleading commercial speech.

"The First Amendment prevents the government from telling businesses it disfavors that they can't engage in truthful advertising,"said lead counsel Bradley Benbrook."This case follows a long line of Supreme Court cases protecting such disfavored businesses from that type of censorship."

The plaintiffs are also represented by Benbrook's colleague Stephen Duvernay and Eugene Volokh, a UCLA law professor who has written and taught extensively about the First and Second Amendments. In addition to Tracy Rifle and Pistol, the lawsuit's plaintiffs include Sacramento Black Rifle of Rocklin, Ten Percent Firearms of Taft, and PRK Arms, a Fresno-based dealer that operates a chain of three stores in California's Central San Joaquin Valley, as well as individual business owners Robert Adams, Wesley Morris, and Jeffrey Mullen.

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