The Arizona Republic reports that the American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona is siding with the libertarian-leaning Goldwater Institute in a lawsuit over the dispute between the city and gun rights activist Alan Korwin.
Phoenix officials said the signs conveyed a political message, violating its policy against non-commercial advertising on buses and transit stops.
Last fall, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Mark Brain ruled in the city’s favor, saying the city created reasonable guidelines for what it will and won’t allow on transit billboards.
Korwin and the Goldwater Institute are challenging that ruling in state Appeals Court. The case is expected to be argued later this year.
The ACLU filed a friend-of-the-court brief with the appeals court, asking it to reverse the lower court’s decision.
The ads said “Guns Save Lives” in large writing against the backdrop of a red heart. Below that were “Arizona Says: Educate Your Kids” and “Train MeAZ.com.” Smaller text promoted the state’s expansive gun rights laws and the website’s offerings.
After the 2010 passage of a state law expanding concealed-carry rights, Korwin and other gun safety instructors created the Train MeAZ.com website and launched the advertising campaign.
Korwin purchased ad space at city bus stops, and the posters went up across the city. He said the purpose of the ads was to capture business for the website, which links gun owners to training classes.
But Phoenix officials saw the message differently, and the posters were removed within days. Officials said the ads, which had been installed by a billboard company that contracts with the city, didn’t have a commercial purpose, as required. City policy doesn’t allow the use of transit ad space for political advertising or public-service announcements.
The Goldwater Institute and ACLU attorneys contend that Phoenix’s ban on non-commercial ads is too broad. They say content-based restrictions on ads should be stopped entirely or, at the least, the city should have a more objective standard.