Flagstaff's Anti-Gun Ad Policy Extremely Problematic

AP Photo/David Goldman

Arizona has a reputation as being fairly pro-gun. In fact, many considered it the most pro-gun state in the nation for years. I’m not sure that’s a fair assessment these days, of course, but they’re not exactly showing signs of trying to restrict everything, either.

Flagstaff, however, isn’t the rest of Arizona.

We know that anti-gun sentiment is more likely to be found in larger towns, and with around 77,000 people, Flagstaff is about the right size to see that sort of thing.

And that’s pretty clear based on, of all things, advertising policy.

Spoiled brats upset at losing a game sometimes take their ball and go home so nobody can play, but can petulant politicians do the same with advertising venues? That’s the question as city officials in Flagstaff, Arizona, end advertising at the local airport rather than allow a firearms-related business to advertise its services to tourists. Well, they’re discontinuing advertising for everybody except a city agency that promotes select businesses. That’s unlikely to resolve the dispute.

Advertising That Violates a Policy To Be Named Later

Earlier this month I covered the case of Rob Wilson, who wanted to continue advertising his Timberline Firearms & Training to people visiting the high-desert community. “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,” I wrote.

That policy hadn’t even been approved yet. “The City’s Facility Advertising Policy remains in draft form,” Flagstaff Public Affairs Director Sarah Langley told me via email. It was scheduled for consideration at the November 14 council meeting. Langley added that part of the city’s objection is that Timberline’s new advertisement is a video, unlike the rotating still images used in past ads. Arizona’s Goldwater Institute, which represents Wilson, denies any such change and shared with me a video identical to the current one and date-stamped August 13, 2019.

Not that still vs. moving images should make a difference.

It quickly became clear that Flagstaff’s city government didn’t want Wilson’s business, or gun-related businesses in general, advertising at its facilities and was scrambling to come up with a justification. But government agencies are limited in their ability to pick who can and can’t speak on public property.

Now they’re only allowing advertising through a local program called Discover Flagstaff, which highlights selected businesses and shuts out Wilson’s and any other gun-related business. That creates still more problems for them, but that’s getting outside of our focus.

What does fall in that realm, though, is the grounds Flagstaff used to deny Wilson’s ad. The idea that firearms training is somehow related to “violence and anti-social behavior.” This is something I’ve seen more than once as an excuse to treat gun stores and gun trainers as if they’re drug dealers.

That’s anti-gun thinking in a nutshell, really. The inability to differentiate between self-defense and a violent attack is why gun control enthusiasts can’t seem to understand how someone like Kyle Rittenhouse was acquitted, for example, because he used a gun to defend his own life.

The kicker here is that if there was, say, a big MMA event or boxing match in town, I somehow doubt that violence would be prohibited from advertising on city property, yet these are violent sports. That’s the appeal of them.

So it’s hypocritical to say they wouldn’t advertise anything sort of related to violence while we all know that if the city stood to benefit directly beyond the advertising rates, they would.

Yet this is what happens when you allow anti-gun sentiment to fester in a community. This is what we’re going to see happen elsewhere.

The gun industry is considered second-class and gets treated as if they something seedy and underhanded when there’s nothing of the sort.

This is a lawsuit and it’ll be interesting to see how this shakes out. It’s not a Second Amendment thing directly, being more of a free speech issue, but it’ll still be something that might have ramifications for the gun community beyond Flagstaff.