In Anne Arundel Co., a First Amendment question over gun sales

A group of gun dealers and a Second Amendment advocacy group have filed a federal lawsuit against Anne Arundel County, Maryland, seeking to overturn a law that requires retail stores that sell guns and ammunition to include pamphlets focused on suicide prevention and conflict resolution.

The plaintiffs and the county agree it’s compelled speech, but they disagree over whether it’s allowed under the First Amendment.

“They know better,” said Mark Pennak, the president of the group Maryland Shall Issue, an advocacy group for gun rights. “The Supreme Court has held that citizens have a right to simply not to speak at all. Dealers have a right to simply be silent on this, but [instead] they’re compelled upon pain of substantial fines to say what the county wants them to say. Not only display it on their counters or elsewhere in the store, but to distribute it with each and every sale of a firearm or ammunition.”

Lawyers representing Anne Arundel County say in rare and complex circumstances like this one, it’s allowed under the Constitution.

“What they’re being asked to disclosed is factual information that’s been produced in part by their industry,” said Deputy County Attorney Hamilton Tyler. The pamphlets in question were produced in part by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, which Tyler calls a trade group for their industry.

“These are factual disclosures that they’re being asked to provide,” argued County Attorney Greg Swain. “This is not a slogan or a particular message that the government is trying to push out there. It really is facts and important safety information.”

Pennak says it doesn’t matter, for a variety of reasons.

“The dealers are not in the business of selling conflict resolution, yet the county requires them to publish the county literature authored by the county about conflict resolution,” he said.

For now, the county is not enforcing the law until there’s an outcome to the case. The plaintiffs are asking the judge for summary judgment and to strike the law down before it goes to trial.

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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