Flashy Storefront Gun Ads Are Protected by the First Amendment, Says California Judge

Sen. Kamala Harris tried to limit the storefront speech of firearms sellers as California attorney general.


|||Brandon Bourdages/
Brandon Bourdages/

A California judge ruled on Monday that certain firearms advertising regulations, which were supported by the state's attorney general office under both current Attorney General Xavier Becerra and his predecessor, Sen. Kamala Harris (D–Calif.), violated the First Amendment.

For the past 95 years, firearms dealers in the state of California were prevented from displaying ads in their own storefronts that were visible from the outside. The 1923 law was passed on the grounds that seeing a picture of a gun might encourage impulsive purchases by people with suicidal or criminal intentions.

Judge Troy L. Nunley of the U.S. Eastern District of California, who was appointed by President Obama, ruled in Tracy Rifle and Pistol LLC et al v Harris et al that the law violated the First Amendment's free speech protections.

Nunley writes that the law was too broad and did not take into account diverse personality traits among adults. He wrote, "The government may not restrict speech that persuades adults, who are neither criminals nor suffer from mental illness, from purchasing a legal and constitutionally-protected product, merely because it distrusts their personality trait and the decisions that personality trait may lead them to make later down the road."

Nunley also wrote that the law's restrictions were inconsistent, pointing out that it allowed for gun shops to display "a large neon sign reading 'GUNS GUNS GUNS' or a 15-foot depiction of a modern sporting rifle." It also allowed dealers to run print and radio ads.

California's advertising regulations have gone far beyond guns. The cannabis industry has faced numerous advertising hurdles, most recently a 2017 law that seeks to ban "dispensary-branded swag, including hats, t-shirts, and hoodies bearing a dispensary's name or logo."