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« October 2010 | Main | December 2010 »

Phoenix Refuses Appeal to Reason

"Guns Save Lives, Educate Your Kids" Officially Censored

Glimmer of hope after meeting evaporates as city refuses to budge

It's official. Gun safety has been censored.

After rounds of meetings and phone calls, the city of Phoenix, perhaps prophetically on Election Day, Tue., Nov. 2, passed final judgment and decided that censorship of our bus-stop advertisements would remain final. “Educate Your Kids” with the big red “Guns Save Lives” heart, which they tore down more than a week ago, were deemed unacceptable and would stay down. They blamed CBS Outdoor with the “error” for having put them up.

WorldNetDaily columnist Jeff Knox describes it perfectly --

We have a few options:

1. Tuck our tails between our legs, admit defeat, and promote the cause of gun safety, education and marksmanship elsewhere, denying cash-strapped Phoenix of revenue;

2. Write new ads in the hope that the city will approve of our words -- but without clear guidelines on what the city will accept, and leaving us subject to their arbitrary case-by-case decision making, with unknown delays between our submission and their decrees;

3. Sue the bastages.

The third option is only on the table because the Goldwater Institute believes this is a well-positioned case to finally challenge the Phoenix speech-restriction codes. The city's ongoing policies of speech suppression, bureaucratic control of speech, inconsistent and arbitrary enforcement, and lack of clear guidelines have attracted the attention of two other leading public-policy law firms, The Institute for Justice, and Judicial Watch. A number of private-practice attorneys have also expressed desire to join the fray. Support for action from the public has been uniformly positive -- thank you all for that.

The city claims this has nothing to do with guns, and in fact proposed a version of our ad that included the big red “Guns Save Lives” heart. But they turned the meaning of our ad literally upside down. Who do they think they are, anyway, re-writing our ad? Where does that authority come from? That version also censored every word of our text, which you can read on the bottom of our website home page  It begins:

“In Arizona, marksmanship matters. 'The Train-Me State' knows that a nation, trained to arms, is an American linchpin of freedom, and is respected in Arizona like nowhere else. The Arizona legislature has enacted vibrant protection of the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. We in Arizona seem destined to set models for the nation-in this case, a shining example of gun rights for all free peoples of the Earth.” Read the rest --

The city claims this amounts to a public-service announcement (PSA), and PSAs are forbidden by those who would dictate speech rules in city government, another point Goldwater seeks to challenge. Where does the city find its authority to ban PSAs? I asked. They couldn't say exactly. But they did note that if they allowed such speech, other people could post announcements too, and some bus riders “might be offended” by this.

To avoid this terrible consequence of free speech, only ads that “propose commercial transactions” are allowed. The city masterminds (one man actually, their attorney who failed to attend our meeting), believe “Educate Your Kids,” with a website that provides trainers and ranges, is not commercial enough. So our headline text died along with our text message:

Guns Save Lives
Arizona Says:
Educate Your Kids

Incensed by this treatment, the Arizona State Rifle and Pistol Association president, Noble Hathaway, convinced Phoenix city councilman Sal DiCiccio to arrange a meeting with the Phoenix city manager, the head of the dept. of transportation Debbie Cotton, a handful of other city officials, and our sponsors, four of whom were available on the day (Dave Kopp of AZCDL, Kim Grady of Second Amendment Sisters, Noble and Gary Christensen of ASRPA, and myself, plus an attorney from the Goldwater Institute).

We met in the palatial new city hall on the 11th floor. I had no idea we built such a monument to city government with our taxes. I've worked for many large companies, Fortune 500s and all. Very few people work in such glorious and opulent surroundings. That was an eye opener in itself. But I digress.

I thought for sure that city manager David Cavazos got the message when I asked if our ad would be more commercial if it said, “Educate Your Kids, Dial 1-800-SOANDSO,” and he nodded. So what's the difference if in the year 2010 we use a website instead of an old-fashioned landline? My read of his face and the tenor of the room was that they got it. Turns out I was wrong.

With all the legal eagles contacting us about the city's humiliating rejection of our words, our signed contract and the arbitrary actions taken without notice or legal process, it sure looks like we have a good case. I half expected the city to come crawling back with an apology and a reversal. Instead they postponed, repeatedly promised an answer, missed one self-imposed deadline after another, left me high and dry expecting phone calls, and finally said you're out of luck, your words are banned, have a nice day. But don't worry, it has nothing to do with guns or the right to keep and bear arms. Right.

Can the city tell you what you can say at a public transit bus stop, by claiming it's a "non-public forum" (that's their precise claim)? Does that even make sense? Can they say our commercial message, approved by their commercial licensee CBS Outdoor, paid for by a commercial outfit like TrainMeAZ, LLC, with commercial sponsors, seeking to educate kids and parents by paid professionals, is not commercial, and get away with it?

What do you think we're going to do?
This will take about a week or two.

Sit tight, you won't be disappointed.

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About the Author

  • Freelance writer Alan Korwin is a founder and past president of the Arizona Book Publishing Association. With his wife Cheryl he operates Bloomfield Press, the largest producer and distributor of gun-law books in the country. Here writing as "The Uninvited Ombudsman," Alan covers the day's stories as they ought to read. Read more.

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