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Second Amendment at heart of First Amendment case

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Today in Phoenix, attorneys for the city and counsel for an Arizona gun rights activist will argue before the state Court of Appeals whether the city has the authority to censor advertising on public transit that promotes the message “Guns Save Lives.”

The timing of this court appearance is ironic, because 12 days from now, the Bellevue-based Second Amendment Foundation and Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, along with several co-sponsors, will be observing “Guns Save Lives Day” in conjunction with Bill of Rights Day, Dec. 15.

The Arizona dispute erupted three years ago when activist and author Alan Korwin launched an advertising effort with the message “Guns Save Lives” emblazoned over a heart. City officials apparently felt the message to be political, pointing to federal court rulings that have allowed government to impose some restrictions on speech. After nine days, according to published reports, the signs came down.

But civil liberties advocates have sided with Korwin, who publicly acknowledged the advertising effort was designed to catch the public’s attention. After all, that’s what advertising is all about, isn’t it?

Recently, according to the Arizona Republic, the city allowed Korwin to post an alternate sign with a blue heart that reads “Guns Stop Crime,” but for Korwin, that’s a thin substitute. He considers this a restriction on his First Amendment right of free speech, and he’s got company.

The Goldwater Institute, a conservative group based in Phoenix, and the American Civil Liberties Union, are siding with Korwin. The ACLU thinks the city’s policy should be overturned because the state constitution has even stronger free speech safeguards than the U.S. Constitution in certain cases.

In a general-release e-mail Monday, Korwin complained, “The fact that our message has been censored now going into its fourth year is an outrageous affront.” He further noted, among other things:

“The hubris and malignant attitudes of those in a position of authority, to deign to tell us what we can and cannot say in public (short of fraud or indecency) so offends the sense of freedom in this country it is grounds for punishment against the offenders in my opinion…

“The fact that none of the city officials could clearly identify why our ads were not acceptable makes it plain as day their actions are arbitrary and improper. The fact that they posted numerous ads that were clearly outside their published guidelines is glaring evidence that they make decisions in an inconsistent and unequal manner, favoring some ads and disfavoring others. I believe we were singled out because they don't like our message. They are prohibited from doing so…”

Korwin also contended that he has been unable to learn who decided to pull the ads.

The argument that guns save lives is offensive to some people, as could be seen in the reactions to the SAF/CCRKBA “Guns Save Lives Day” when it was first announced. SAF founder and Executive Vice President Alan Gottlieb was demonized for trying to exploit the weekend of the first anniversary of the Sandy Hook tragedy. In response, Gottlieb appealed to groups on both sides of the gun rights debate to not exploit the date, but gun prohibitionists have already shown they are planning several events around the country.

“Guns Save Lives Day” was launched to counter that and to bring attention to the fact that firearms have proven to be great crime deterrents. That much was demonstrated recently in a Seattle suburb when a pair of would-be armed robbers were routed by a shopkeeper who pulled his own gun. The bad guys ran without a shot being fired.

Korwin is widely known for his books on gun laws in various states, and he is unabashed about his Second Amendment views.

The outcome of today’s arguments may determine just how far he can push those views with advertising on public property, where one might presume the expression of diverse opinion would be not simply welcomed, but encouraged.

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