GOP Lawmakers Warn Flagstaff That Their Ban On Firearms Ads Is Unconstitutional

September 14, 2023

By Corinne Murdock |

Republican lawmakers are warning the Flagstaff City Council that their proposed ban on firearms ads would be unconstitutional and unlawful. 

In a letter obtained by AZ Free News, State Reps. David Marshall (R-LD07), Leo Biasucci (R-LD30), and Quang Nguyen (R-LD1) told the council that the ban presented multiple constitutional concerns such as viewpoint discrimination and would violate state law, citing A.R.S. §13-3108.

“We trust that you realize, however, that the draft policy has nothing to do with ‘violence’ or ‘antisocial behavior.’ As written, the draft policy raises a host of constitutional concerns, including viewpoint discrimination,” said the lawmakers.

State Rep. John Gillette (R-LD30) agreed with his fellow lawmakers’ assessment of the policy.

“This can’t stand, what is repugnant to the Constitution should be void,” said Gillette. 

During the meeting, Councilmember Lori Matthews said that firearms-related businesses should still be allowed to advertise, and proposed more specific restrictions on depictions of violence rather than banning all display of firearms in general.

“I feel uncomfortable thinking we would turn off a whole industry,” said Matthews.

Councilmember Jim McCarthy compared massage parlors, marijuana and cigarette shops to firearms, saying that none of those business owners were complaining of their inability to advertise. McCarthy claimed that the firearms-related businesses wouldn’t be hurt by this policy.

“This will have no effect on the operation of any of these businesses. What they can do or not do is determined by state law and other regulations,” said McCarthy. “[This policy will] have no impact on free speech in general.”

Councilmember Deb Harris said she didn’t need any more explanation of the policy changes, and that she was in full support of the draft policy as it stood.

Heidi Hansen, director of Economic Vitality, was responsible for the policy changes. Hansen recommended requiring firearms-related companies to include compelled speech consisting of a “safety message” in their advertisements.

Hansen further disclosed that their rejection of an ad placement by Timber Firearms and Training was due to the fact that the ad video depicted a firearms instructor “firing rapidly” at a “silhouette of a person.” The figure in question was likely the B-27 silhouette paper target, a common tool for shooting ranges, especially for law enforcement training.

“It was firing quite rapidly at a silhouette of a person and we felt like that might make someone uncomfortable,” said Hansen. 

It appears that Timber Firearms and Training ad placement request was the motivator for the new proposed policy.

Wilson spoke out against the policy during Tuesday’s meeting. He noted that ads do have an impact, contrary to what some on the council implied.

“Sadly, some of our customers are like the single mother that just left the judge’s chambers. She has an order of protection but knows the abuser’s not going to honor that. She has to come someplace where she can get training and where she can get armed to defend herself and her children,” said Wilson. “If she didn’t know we existed, what would the result be?”

Wilson further warned the council that the proposed policy would be grounds for a lawsuit.

Michael Infanzon, a lobbyist representing the Arizona Citizens Defense League (ACDL), also voiced opposition to the policy. Infanzon said that the policy ran afoul of the Constitution and Arizona statute.

“[Municipalities] cannot enforce a complete ban unless they can demonstrate that such advertising constitutes a threat to public health and safety,” recited Infanzon.

Councilmember Miranda Sweet said Timber Firearms and Training may have to compromise.

“I was very uncomfortable when I watched [the ad video],” said Sweet. “We’re trying to welcome people into the community when they come into the airport, and the video didn’t portray that.” 

Vice Mayor Austin Aslan said the proposed policy was “far too descriptive” and suggested changing the language to reflect “weapons” rather than “firearms.”

Corinne Murdock is a reporter for AZ Free News. Follow her latest on Twitter, or email tips to corinne@azfreenews.com.

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