San Francisco reconsiders gun ban for transit ads after court ruling, challenge by advocates

By Trevor Hunnicutt, AP
Tuesday, September 7, 2010

San Francisco reconsidering gun ban in transit ads

SAN FRANCISCO — The image of a woman brandishing a gun is gracing more than a dozen San Francisco bus stop shelters after the city suspended a policy banning firearms in advertisements on public transportation.

The advertisement, which gun-rights advocates created to promote a conference near the city later this month, was allowed to run after city transportation officials decided they might face a legal challenge on Second Amendment grounds for refusing it.

The Municipal Transportation Agency is “taking a step back” to review its policy in light of a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that said Second Amendment gun protections apply on a state and local level, spokesman Paul Rose said.

The ruling “may have significantly altered the landscape in terms of gun rights in this country,” Rose said. “We just want to be very clear — very transparent — about what can be posted on our system.”

The poster features a black-and-white photograph of a woman with a shotgun. The red text on top says, “A violent criminal is breaking through your front door. Can you afford to be unarmed?”

The poster promotes the 25th annual Gun Rights Policy Conference in Burlingame, south of San Francisco.

The city’s ban on advertisements that “appear to promote the use of firearms” was enacted several years ago due to concern about the “use and appearance” of guns throughout the public transportation system, Rose said.

The policy applies to bus shelters and light-rail train stations operated by MTA, as well as city buses and trains themselves.

The pro-gun Second Amendment Foundation said it put up the posters after hearing that a movie poster for the buddy-cop comedy “The Other Guys” had to be modified because of the city’s policy. Prop guns held by stars Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg in the poster were replaced with a pepper-spray can and a badge.

The gun prohibition for the movie advertisement was troubling to Alan Gottlieb, who founded the Second Amendment Foundation, based near Seattle.

“It sort of stuck in my throat a bit,” said Gottlieb, whose group previously challenged a handgun ban in San Francisco. “A picture of a firearm, surely, I believe, is protected as much as the firearm is.”

He said posting the eye-catching advertisement was a “win-win” situation for the group: If the image was allowed to be posted, it would give the conference publicity. If not, Gottlieb said he believes his group would win a lawsuit in court.

The group’s optimism comes just months after the 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, in McDonald v. Chicago, regarding Second Amendment gun protections on the state and local level.

Justice Samuel Alito’s opinion in that case is quoted in the advertisements, some of which were labeled Monday with a disclaimer that the perspectives in the ad “do not necessarily reflect the views of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency.”

The posters drew some negative reaction from passers-by Monday morning.

“I’m not a huge fan of these posters,” said Courtney Pyle, 25, a speech pathologist who says she is not a proponent of gun rights. “They don’t make me feel great.”

Gottlieb says San Francisco’s attitude toward gun rights and the Second Amendment Foundation’s views is hostile, but he sees the group’s conference — just their second in the Bay area in 16 years — as an opportunity to support people who feel disenfranchised by local policies.

“San Francisco is not friendly territory to gun rights generally,” he said. “There’s a lot of people in the Bay area who own firearms and are discriminated against by local law enforcement.”

The city will let the posters stand until a final decision is reached on the policy, Rose said.

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