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Sunday, February 25, 2024 | Back issues
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Gun Dealers Challenge Handgun Sign Ban

(CN) - Four gun dealers constitutionally challenged California's decades-old ban on displaying handgun ads "that are visible from outside their place of business."

Lead plaintiff Tracy Rifle and Pistol et al. claim that California's Penal Code section 26820 violates the First and Second Amendments.

The eight plaintiffs in the Nov. 10 lawsuit in Sacramento Federal Court include four gun stores and their owners. All are in Sacramento or San Joaquin County.

The gun dealers say they "have a constitutionally protected interest in conveying truthful commercial information about handguns to the public, and the public has a corresponding interest in receiving that information."

California in 1923 enacted Penal Code section 26820, which the gun dealers say prevents them from advertising the "most basic commercial information" to passersby.

California law does not prevent them from advertising rifles or shotguns that people can view when passing by their establishments; it only bans the visible handguns, the dealers say. "But an anti-gun group would remain free under Section 26820 to use similar imagery to picket in front of that same dealer, encouraging people not to purchase handguns or warning of the dangers of gun violence (indeed, the First Amendment protects such speech as well)."

The law therefore is "viewpoint-discriminatory" and unconstitutional, the dealers say.

They claim the law discriminates against them and is designed to suppress the legal sale of handguns through "market manipulation" by "prohibiting truthful, non-misleading advertisements."

They claim that handguns are overwhelmingly the most popular type of firearm preferred by U.S. citizens and the ability to buy one is a "central" component of exercising the Second Amendment.

"Even if California believes that buying a handgun is a bad decision," the dealers say, "the 'fear that people would make bad decisions if given truthful information' cannot justify content-based burdens on speech."

Federal inspectors have cited some gun stores and their owners for violating the ban and threatened to revoke their licenses to sell firearms if they did not remedy the violations, according to the lawsuit.

One plaintiff says he had a metal sign shaped like a handgun outside his store; another had a sign depicting three types of handguns in a window.

They seek declaratory judgment that the law is unconstitutional, and want its enforcement enjoined.

They are represented by Bradley Benbrook and Stephen Duvernay with the Benbrook Law Group of Sacramento and Eugene Volokh with the UCLA School of Law.

Named as defendants are California Attorney General Kamala D. Harris and California Department of Justice Bureau of Firearms Chief Stephen J. Lindley.

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