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The Other Guys (Armed)

Via the Daily Dish, SF Weekly notes that adverts with too many guns are not welcome in the SF Muni:

While the official poster for the film features a maniacal Ferrell and the menacing Wahlberg sailing through the air, guns drawn, the version in Muni stations features Ferrell brandishing a vial of pepper spray and Wahlberg relying upon his bare fists. This is not a coincidence.

“Well, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency does have an advertising policy that states ads should not appear to promote the use of firearms or advocate any violent action,” explains spokesman Paul Rose. You can read the stipulations against promoting “the use of firearms” and “imminent lawlessness or violent actions” right here.

Interestingly, while the stars are disarmed in the posters within Muni stations, Wahlberg and Ferrell are packing heat on the sides of Muni vehicles — an interesting, if nonsensical, double-standard.

Volokh objects:

The policy is unconstitutional, at least as applied to movie ads, because it’s viewpoint-based. The government has broad authority to restrict speech on its own property (at least setting aside traditional public forums, which transportation ad space is not, see the linked-to opinion’s favorable citation to the Lehman v. City of Shaker Heights plurality opinion). But even in such a nonpublic forum that’s open for advertising purposes, it may not restrict speech based on viewpoint. And a ban on speech that “appear[s] to promote the use of firearms” — but not speech that appears to oppose the use of firearms — is viewpoint-based.

It’s possible that a ban on the advertising of nonspeech products, such as guns, might be treated more deferentially (a difficult question that I set aside here). But a general ban on speech that seems to promote the use of firearms would be unconstitutional (see the highlighted passage in R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul), both as to noncommercial advertisements — e.g., political ads supporting private gun ownership and use — and as to the movie ads discussed here. And of course on top of this I can’t see how the ad here in fact promotes (or even appears to promote) the use of firearms or advocates any violent action.

Interesting comment from Malvolio

A few years back, I went to a PTA meeting. Two items on the agenda: first, the success of the “harm reduction” approach in the school’s drug-awareness program; second, two freshmen boys had been apprehended by city police, on a Saturday, firing a BB gun at a dumpster near, but not on, school property.

The BB incident was treated as the second coming of Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold. I made the suggestion that since harm reduction had been such a buffo success with drugs, the school should run a similar program of education students in the proper use of firearms.

Wow, what a hornets’ nest that kicked over. A dozen other parents were screaming at me simultaneous, I was a lunatic, I was trying to get children killed, yadda yadda.

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  1. This is a perfect example of what happens in a culture of moral ambiguity; where there is no right or wrong, good or evil, and where values are defined by what a person feels rather than by objective standards. In this world there are no good guys or bad guys. So police bearing firearms (notice the badges on their belts), albeit in a comedic movie, are equated to the promotion of unlawful violence. In a world of right and wrong, it's okay for the good guys to have the power. But in the world of moral relativism, everyone's an equal threat.

    My question is, why stop with movie posters? Does the presence of police officers bearing unconcealed handguns not also promote gun violence? Perhaps they should order the confiscation of firearms from all cops and fill their holsters with long stem carnations (not roses – the thorns might conjure up violent images).

    Another question: they claim "ads should not appear to promote the use of firearms or advocate any violent action." Any violent action? Is spraying pepper spray not violent? What about Marky Mark's fists? By the twisted logic of the logocracy tyrants that govern the SF Muni, the new poster is as guilty of promoting violent actions as much as the old one.

    I'll count this as one more reason why I'm glad I no longer live in California, the state of my birth and childhood.

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