On Appeal, Phoenix Loses Gun-Ad Suit

Law Shield was happy to see that author Alan Korwin and the Goldwater Institute in Arizona won a suit challenging the removal of a gun-business advertisement from 50 Phoenix bus shelters in October 2010.

The Arizona Court of Appeals struck down Phoenix’s decision forbidding a pro-gun advertisement at city bus stops. The suit said the city’s rules were so vague that they allow city officials to violate business owners’ right to free speech.

The Phoenix Public Transit Department said posters for a website operated by TrainMeAz did not comply with city standards for advertising at bus shelters. But city officials could not explain how the TrainMeAZ ads are substantially different than posters that appear on bus stops throughout the city for other businesses including jewelry stores, fast-food restaurants, and weekend gun shows.

The TrainMeAz website was created in 2010 to connect self-defense and marksmanship trainers with potential customers. To grow the new business, the website launched a promotion campaign that included roadside billboards. It also contracted for poster locations with CBS Outdoors, a private company hired by the Phoenix transit department to manage advertising at city bus stops. A week after the bus stop ads were in place, Phoenix transit officials ordered their removal. Negotiations to restore the ads failed, as the city claimed the posters did not propose “a commercial transaction.”

Last fall, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Mark Brain ruled in the city’s favor, stating the city had created reasonable guidelines for what it will and won’t allow on transit billboards.

According to the Goldwater Institute lawsuit, the Arizona Constitution protects free expression to a greater degree than the federal Constitution — it gives every person in the state the right to “freely speak, write and publish.” But the City’s ordinance permits only commercial speech at bus stops, prohibiting all other types of advertisements. This didn’t comply with the state’s broad speech protections, the Institute argued, because it allowed the government to favor one type of speech over other types.

The Goldwater Institute’s Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation represented TrainMeAz LLC and company manager Alan Korwin in this legal case.