City Officials Tore Down Ads for Gun Safety Website But Approved Ads for “Free Pregnancy Test,” and “Jesus Heals.”

| December 3 2013

GUN BUSINESS OWNER GETS DAY IN COURT AFTER TRANSIT ADVERTISEMENTS CENSORED BY BUREAUCRATS

Phoenix, AZ—An appeals court will take up the case Tuesday of a gun business owner whose First Amendment rights were violated when local bureaucrats arbitrarily tore down his business’ advertisements, claiming they violated preset city guidelines.

City officials say that the ads of gun business owner Alan Korwin, which aimed to direct viewers to his for-profit websiteTrainMeAZ.com for gun safety resources, failed to “propose a commercial transaction.”

Korwin’s advertisements, originally erected in several bus shelters across Phoenix, featured a red heart with the language “Guns Save Lives” and information about gun training products and services featured on his site.

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And while Korwin’s advertisement may not have been explicit in precisely what sort of commercial transaction he was proposing, neither were several other ads that the city did approve, including a “free pregnancy test” ad to entice women to visit a local family planning clinic and an ad for a local radio station that said only, “Jesus Heals.”

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According to attorneys at the Goldwater Institute, who are representing Korwin, the city applied standards arbitrarily to the “Gun Save Lives” ad.

“This case will decide whether the right to advertise on public property must be determined by clear, reasonable, and objective standards,” said Clint Bolick, vice president for litigation at the Goldwater Institute. “The free-speech protections of the U.S. and Arizona Constitutions do not tolerate suppression of speech by bureaucratic whim.”

The case has national implications because of widespread disputes over the extent to which transit agencies can censor ads.  It also raises the question of whether state constitutions provide greater speech protection than the First Amendment.

A lower court judge ruled against Korwin earlier this year. The American Civil Liberties Union is also taking part in the case as an amicus.