By Corinne Murdock |
The city of Flagstaff may face a lawsuit over its forthcoming decision to ban a firearms advertisement.
In a press release issued earlier this week, the Goldwater Institute said that the city’s ban, if approved, would constitute an illegal violation of free speech.
“When a city operates a public facility, it cannot use that authority to censor messages or viewpoints it disagrees with,” said the Goldwater Institute. “But that’s just what the city of Flagstaff is doing: abusing its power to push an anti-gun agenda.”
The Phoenix-based public policy organization reached out to the city to request they reject the ban on behalf of a business owner who, it appears, prompted the ban: Rob Wilson, owner of the indoor gun range Timberline Firearms and Training.
“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,” stated the 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).”
Wilson had run his gun range business ads without issue at the Flagstaff Pulliam Airport since 2019. It wasn’t until April that the city denied his ad. City officials claimed that Wilson’s advertisement conflicted with their advertising guidelines by representing “violence or antisocial behavior.” Wilson’s contested ad video is below.
The city refused Wilson’s attempt at an appeal. Afterwards, the city developed a new policy specifically prohibiting the inclusion of firearms in advertisements.
Heidi Hansen, director of Economic Vitality, was responsible for the policy changes. Hansen explained during a council meeting last month that the rejection of the Timber Firearms and Training ad was due to the video depicting 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.
Wilson, a Navy veteran, said that his city leadership went against the Constitution he fought to defend for decades.
“Denying my right to advertise is simply wrong,” said Wilson. “After serving 22 years on active duty to defend the Constitution, I’m not about to sacrifice my rights.”
Lawmakers warned the city last month, ahead of a city council discussion of the ban, that it would be both unconstitutional and unlawful.
During discussion of the policy, city officials said they felt that the advertisement video was unwelcoming and discomforting. Councilmember Miranda Sweet said that Timber Firearms and Training might have to compromise on the issue.
“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.”
Although the Goldwater Institute stated in its letter that the Flagstaff City Council may consider the firearms advertisement ban during its Nov. 7 regular meeting, a city spokesperson informed AP News that an “updated version” of the policy would be included in the Nov. 14 council meeting.