Case targets state’s ban on gun placards

by Steven Greenhut  |  published on November 21, 2014

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In a 1964 U.S. Supreme Court case involving a movie-theater owner convicted of an Ohio law banning the showing of obscene movies, Justice Potter Stewart famously said he could not “intelligibly” define obscenity, “but I know it when I see it.” People still use that line to showcase the imprecision and irrationality of many laws.

How do we convict someone of something so hard to define? We often know when we see other absurdities, also, including an archaic statute now subject of a gun-related lawsuit filed this month in federal court. California Penal Code 26820 bans gun stores from displaying signs — visible from outside the premises — picturing handguns. They aren’t allowed to display words-only signs that advertise the sales of handguns, either.

Rifles can be pictured. Stores may show images of handguns in advertisements that are not on their premises. And opponents of gun rights are free to display photographs and placards depicting handguns. Defenders of gun rights often rely on the Constitution’s Second Amendment to protect gun ownership, but in this case the plaintiffs are relying on the First Amendment.

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