Can the state of California ban gun shows on public property without violating the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens? Absolutely not, according to a new lawsuit filed in federal court by the California Rifle & Pistol Association, Second Amendment Foundation, Asian Pacific American Gun Owners, Association, Second Amendment Law Center, and several individual plaintiffs including the operators of the Crossroads of the West Gun Shows.
In a complaint filed in Sacramento, the plaintiffs argue that SB 264, which was recently signed into law by Gov. Gavin Newsom, crosses the line and infringes on the rights of free speech, assembly, and equal protection under the law.
Political and ideological speech—including speech concerning “politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion”—has long been considered the core of the First Amendment.
Public property made available for lease by community groups to engage in expressive activity must thus be available without regard to the viewpoint sought to be expressed. Such venues cannot be opened to some and closed to others, suppressing protected expression, absent a compelling government interest.
The First Amendment does not tolerate the suppression of speech based on what some may label an unpopular viewpoint of the speaker. Indeed, “above all else, the First Amendment means that the government has no power to restrict expression because of its message, its ideas, its subject matter, or its content.”
The whole push behind the ban on gun shows on public property like the Cow Palace just outside of San Francisco is to chill the exercise of constitutionally-protected rights; not just our ability to keep and bear arms, but our freedom to gather with other gun owners in support of our Second Amendment rights.
Gun shows are a modern bazaar—a convention of like-minded individuals who meet in this unique public forum that has been set aside by state and local governments for all manner of commerce. This convention-like setting is of incalculable benefit to the gun-buying consumer and promotes public safety.
Gun shows, in general, and the Orange County show, in particular, are a celebration of America’s “gun culture” that is a natural and essential outgrowth of the constitutional rights that flow from the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution
Gun shows, in general, and the Orange County show, in particular, are a First Amendment forum where literature and information are shared, speakers provide valuable lectures, classes are conducted, political forums are held where gun rights discussions take place, and candidates for political office can meet to discuss political issues, the government, and the constitution with constituents who are part of the California gun culture.
As the lawsuit points out, with more than 1-million new gun owners in California in recent years, their right to freely associate with one another is more important than ever, but California Democrats are attempting to block these gatherings from taking place by making public venues like the Orange County Fairgrounds off-limits to all gun shows on the basis of the most spurious public safety arguments. Any and all buyers of a firearm at a gun show in the state are required to undergo a background check as well as wait the required ten days before they can take possession of it, and show promoters are subject to even more restrictions than brick-and-mortar gun stores that operate across the state.
The Second Amendment Foundation’s Alan Gottlieb declared after the suit was filed that, “ike it or not gun shows are public forums where like-minded people can meet and discuss various issues, engage in firearm sales and purchases, learn about gun safety and enjoy the camaraderie inherent at such events. Obviously, the defendants don’t like that, but they simply cannot violate constitutional rights to satisfy a personal disdain.”
Well, they’re certainly trying, and if they can get away with it in California you know that other anti-gun politicians in states like New York and Illinois are going to follow their lead. This is a critically important lawsuit; not just because of the implications for our right to keep and bear arms, but for our freedom of speech, association, and our right to speak our mind as well.