A federal judge in Sacramento has overturned a 95-year-old state law that banned firearms dealers from using images of handguns on their storefronts as advertising to sell such weapons.
The law blocked dealers from using such images but allowed them to use signs featuring shotguns or rifles, something state lawyers argued was in place to stop impulsive individuals from purchasing a handgun and using it in a suicide or crime.
U.S. District Judge Troy L. Nunley disagreed, ruling in an order filed Tuesday that the law violates the U.S. Constitution.
“California may not accomplish its goals by violating the First Amendment,” Nunley wrote in a 15-page order issued in the four-year-old case.
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The case stemmed from a lawsuit filed by Tracy Rifle and Pistol, Sacramento Black Rifle Inc. and other licensed firearms dealers who said they had been thwarted from “truthful, non-misleading material advertising the sale of handguns at their places of business” by California Penal Code section 26820.
Tracy Rifle was cited by the state Department of Justice Bureau of Firearms after a Sept. 12, 2014, inspection found large vinyl decals on the windows, three of them depicting handguns and one a rifle, court documents say.
“As of the date of the inspection, each of these firearms could be lawfully purchased in California, and Tracy Rifle regularly carries each of the four guns depicted in the windows,” the lawsuit states.
Calls to Tracy Rifle’s telephone listing Tuesday reached a recording that said the dealer was permanently closed, but another plaintiff in the suit, Sacramento Black Rifle on Greenback Lane in Citrus Heights, lauded the judge’s ruling.
“It’s all good news for us,” store manager Nate Woodward said. “We actually had a handgun in our logo. That was one thing that’s really big for us.”
Woodward said the store currently features an AR-15 rifle image on its building, but that because of the order the store will add handguns to its signage.
“It’s not a Second Amendment issue,” he said. “It’s a First Amendment issue.”
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s office, which fought the suit, said it was reviewing the judge’s decision.
But a statement from The Calguns Foundation, a non-profit Second Amendment advocacy group, praised Nunley’s ruling and predicted the state would appeal it to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
“This is an important victory for our clients and for the First Amendment,” Sacramento attorney and lead counsel Brad Benbrook said in a statement. “Judge Nunley decided that the State could not justify its censorship of our clients, and we are delighted with the opinion.
“As the court explained today, the government cannot censor commercial speech in a paternalistic effort to keep citizens from making unpopular choices – or choices the government doesn’t approve – if they are told the truth.”
Nunley rejected arguments that one reason for California’s 10-day waiting period for handgun purchases is to reduce suicides, noting that the state claimed “suicide is the leading cause of death for purchasers in the year after a handgun purchase.”
Instead, Nunley noted in his order, guns used in a suicide “are bought a mean of 11 years before the suicide.”
The judge wrote that the government’s “theory is essentially that an impulsive person will see a handgun sign outside a store, will impulsively buy the gun (although the Government does not identify a specific purpose for the purchase), and then, at some unspecified future time likely years later, the person’s impulsive temperament will lead him to impulsively misuse the handgun that he bought in response to seeing the sign.”