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Judge Strikes California's Century-Old Ban on Gun Advertising

By William Vogeler, Esq. on September 14, 2018 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

About 100 hundred years ago, California lawmakers decided shopkeepers could not display guns in their store windows.

Never mind that people could carry guns on their hips in some parts, but that's all history. A federal judge has struck down California's 95-year-old law on First Amendment grounds.

Tracy Rifle and Pistol v. Harris is a big decision for gunshops. It means they can show people what's inside their stores, in case they didn't know.

"Impulsive Handgun Purchases"

The state Department of Justice had defended the law, saying it could cause "impulsive handgun purchases" and push suicidal people to kill themselves. Judge Troy Nunley, in a 150-page order, pushed that argument aside.

"The state has an array of policies at its disposal to combat handgun suicide and crime," the judge said. His ruling undoes the century-old provisions of Penal Code Section 26820, which provides:

"No handgun or imitation handgun, or placard advertising the sale or other transfer thereof, shall be displayed in any part of the premises where it can readily be seen from the outside."

Reporting on the decision, Courthouse News observed that under the law retailers "could use huge neon storefront ads that said 'GUNS GUNS GUNS' but not depictions of handguns."

Guns, Guns, Guns

The plaintiffs sued in 2014, seeking to enjoin the law. The trial judge denied their request for an injunction, but granted their motion for summary judgment and declared the law unconstitutional.

Eugene Volokh, a First Amendment expert and law professor who worked on the case, said there is no "gun advertising exception" to the First Amendment.

"Under the First Amendment, the government may not restrict speech on the theory that it will supposedly lead a few listeners to do bad things, or even to commit crimes," he said.

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