Organized youth shooting is disappearing in California as a result of a new law sold as banning advertising guns to kids but also potentially penalizes any promotion of firearms to minors. Rightfully criticized as a totalitarian attack on gun-oriented speech, the law is also an example of desperation on the part of those opposed to firearms, who lost big in the Supreme Court, see DIY firearms makers slipping beyond their grasp, and are now reduced to lashing out at an entire culture.
"A new California law that bans marketing guns to kids isn't sitting well with some Glenn County shooting teams," ActionNewsNow reported July 29. "Some parents and students say this law could end up costing them their sport."
Glenn County families aren't alone.
"Due to recent legislation from the California State Assembly, and signed into Law by Gov. Gavin Newsom, the USA Clay Target League, DBA USA High School Clay Target League/California State High School Clay Target League, has been forced by law to suspend all operations within California," USA Clay Target League notes on its website. "California Assembly Bill 2571 … provides for a civil penalty of $25,000 for any and each instance of firearm-related marketing to persons under the age of 18. That includes the '… use, or ownership of firearm-related products…' as well as '…events where firearm-related products are sold or used.'"
The law's chilling effect on shooting sports extends to simple speech involving minors and firearms.
"Due to California Bill A.B. 2571, Junior Shooters is no longer available to juniors (Under 18) from the state of California," the youth-oriented publication warns online. "If you are a minor in California, please do not continue, otherwise, welcome to Junior Shooters."
Understandably, the publishers of Junior Shooters are suing the state of California with the assistance of the Second Amendment Foundation.
"The broad-sweeping law applies not only to 'commercial speech' targeting children or encouraging them to engage in unlawful behavior, but to a great deal of political and educational speech, truthful commercial speech aimed at adults, and speech promoting activities that are perfectly lawful to engage in—even by minors in California," warns their motion for a preliminary injunction, which will be heard in federal court on August 22. "Because the law is not tailored to serving a compelling governmental interest, it violates the First Amendment rights to free speech, assembly, and association."
Of course, A.B. 2571 wasn't sold as an attempt to prohibit passing an appreciation for shooting sports from one generation to the next. It was peddled instead as a restriction on marketing guns to kids, as if there's a danger of tiny tots disguising themselves as their parents to get through the background checks at sporting-goods stores.
"California has some of the strongest gun laws in the country and it is unconscionable that we still allow advertising weapons of war to our children," Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan (D–Orinda) huffed in a press release when Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the measure into law on July 1.
But the actual law goes well beyond restricting targeted advertising. Its language could easily be construed to encompass youth shooting teams, firearms publications, and activist organizations. Arguably, A Christmas Story might not pass muster over young Ralphie's hankering for a Red Ryder BB gun. That's why legislators were warned by legal experts that their bill didn't just tread into territory protected by the First Amendment, it stomped all over that ground.
"A gun magazine publisher, for instance—or a gun advocacy group that publishes a magazine—would likely be covered as a 'firearm industry member,' because it was formed to advocate for use or ownership of guns, might endorse specific products in product reviews, and might carry advertising for guns," cautioned UCLA's Eugene Volokh in testimony that dubbed the measure "unconstitutional."
The courts will do what the courts will do, of course. But A.B. 2571 resembles a likely piñata for any judge who cares about protections for free speech, without even getting into the Second Amendment implications. So why would gun-hating California lawmakers waste time, effort, and taxpayer money on legislation seemingly doomed to go down to ignominious defeat?
Well, the Supreme Court's recent decision in Bruen capped off a tough stretch for gun-rights opponents that began in 2008 with Heller. Many of their favorite restrictions now look legally vulnerable if not outright impermissible under the Constitution's Second Amendment. On top of that, years of threatening to prohibit popular firearms helped launch a DIY culture of enthusiasts who make guns at home using techniques resistant to regulation. Anti-gunners target unfinished 80 percent firearm receivers only to have innovators respond with zero-percent receivers. And bans on using 3D printers, computer numerical control (CNC) machines, or traditional workshop tools to manufacture firearms are largely unenforceable against people who set out to evade control. So, authoritarians are reduced to desperation and overreaching.
"The problem with this bill is the same problem as the Texas anti-abortion law it mimics: it creates an end run around the essential function of the courts to ensure that constitutional rights are protected," the California ACLU objected to the state's recent application to guns of the ill-considered approach in Texas's law, passed before Dobbs overturned Roe's protections for abortion. "Specifically, this bill creates a 'bounty-hunter' scheme that authorizes private individuals to bring costly and harassing lawsuits designed and intended to intimidate people from engaging in a proscribed activity without requiring—or even permitting—the government to defend the law the defendants are alleged to have violated."
As with the Texas law it copies, California's anti-gun bounty law is widely seen as excessive and dangerous even by many of those who sympathize with its intent. Likewise, a prohibition on "advertising" firearms to minors that criminalizes sports teams, censors publications, and targets an entire culture seeks to escape protections for established liberties in a sweeping attack that has already inflicted collateral damage.
Wounded animals are dangerous, of course, and that's what anti-gun authoritarians resemble at the moment. With dwindling means to impose their will, and their prey escaping their grasp, anti-gunners are lashing out at more people and freedoms than ever before. They're going down to defeat, but they'll take some victims with them.