Violating the First Amendment to Silence Second Amendment Supporters

Image by RebeccaBarray from Openverse

Gun control activists and anti-gun politicians aren’t just going after the right to keep and bear arms. Increasingly, they’re going after the First Amendment rights of Second Amendment supporters.


There’ve been a couple of recent examples of this despicable assault on the freedom of speech in California, where federal judges have struck down laws prohibiting the advertising of any “firearm-related product in a manner that is designed, intended, or reasonably appears to be attractive to minors” and a ban on gun shows on state property that was found to have violated the First Amendment rights of both gun owners and vendors. But the attacks on gun owners’ speech aren’t limited to the anti-2A extremists in Sacramento. As J.D. Tuccille documents at Reason, local officials in Flagstaff, Arizona are trying to silence a local gun shop owner by blocking his ads at the local airport.

“Flagstaff recently banned Navy veteran Rob Wilson from advertising for his indoor gun range at the local airport—an illegal violation of the freedom of speech,” notes Arizona’s Goldwater Institute, which is representing Wilson. “Rob’s silent, 10-second spot promoting Timberline Firearms & Training has appeared thousands of times on a loop—with no complaints—since he started running it alongside other local businesses’ ads over the Flagstaff Pulliam Airport baggage carousel in 2019.”

This year, Wilson reached out to Pulliam as he has in the past to run his ad during the busy summer season when tourists fly into the mountain town to enjoy its views and access to outdoor recreation. For the first time, though, officials rejected the ad, telling Wilson that its representation of shooting sports violated the city’s ban on displaying “violence or anti-social behavior” and its new advertising policy against depicting guns.


There’s nothing inherently violent about putting holes in paper targets, and certainly nothing anti-social about a visit to a gun range, so city officials appear to be relying on that new policy banning any depiction of firearms and ammunition. Tuccille points out, however, that the policy is so new it’s not actually policy yet. The Flagstaff City Council proposed the ban back in September, but isn’t scheduled to formally vote on the ban until later this month. If the city does move ahead with its attack on Wilson’s First Amendment rights, the next step will likely involve the federal courts.

By denying Mr. Wilson’s request to advertise based on an unreasonable and pretextual application of the advertising policy, the City has violated Mr. Wilson’s constitutional rights to freedom of speech and due process of law,” John Thorpe, staff attorney for the Goldwater Institute’s Scharf-Norton Center for Constitutional Litigation, informed Flagstaff officials in an October 24 letter. “Moreover, the new policy currently under consideration is unconstitutional, both as applied to Mr. Wilson (as it expressly targets his expression) and on its face (as it bans broad, poorly-defined categories of speech and discriminates based on content and viewpoint).”

I’m kind of surprised that the city council hasn’t just proposed a ban on gun shops and ranges inside the city limits rather than trying to stop them from advertising. Both measures would be equally unconstitutional, so if they’re going to infringe on Wilson’s First Amendment rights they might as well go all out and try to block him and his customers from exercising their Second Amendment rights while they’re at it. In for a penny, in for a pound, right?


It’s great that the Goldwater Institute is on the case, and Thorpe’s letter to the city council will hopefully persuade a majority of its members not to trample all over Wilson’s constitutional rights. But the actions that the council has already taken speak volumes about the anti-Second Amendment animosity so prevalent on the Left, as well as the contempt they have for our First Amendment freedoms as well. Even if Wilson prevails in Flagstaff, this won’t be the last attempt by anti-gunners to silence pro-Second Amendment voices. If they can’t make us go away, they’ll try to shut us up instead, and it’s more important than ever that we stand up and speak out against these civil rights abuses.

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