4th Circuit upholds ordinance requiring gun sellers to distribute suicide prevention information
A federal appeals court has upheld a county ordinance requiring gun dealers to distribute literature on suicide prevention and conflict resolution to buyers of guns and ammunition. (Image from Shutterstock)
A federal appeals court has upheld a county ordinance requiring gun dealers to distribute literature on suicide prevention and conflict resolution to buyers of guns and ammunition.
The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at Richmond, Virginia, ruled Tuesday that the Anne Arundel County, Maryland, ordinance does not violate the First Amendment rights of gun dealers.
Bloomberg Law has coverage.
The ordinance was passed in 2022 after the county created a task force to address how to reduce gun violence. The task force, appointed after the 2018 mass shooting at the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland, found that suicide deaths had increased, and guns were the most often means used.
In response, the county adopted the ordinance requiring the health department to prepare informational literature for gun dealers. The department used a pamphlet created by a collaboration of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, a national nonprofit organization, and developed a flyer on county conflict-resolution resources, including a suicide prevention toolkit.
The plaintiffs in the case were four Anne Arundel County gun dealers and Maryland Shall Issue Inc. They claimed that the literature conveyed the message that guns cause suicide and was intended to discourage gun sales.
A federal district judge rejected the challenge, and the 4th Circuit affirmed in a Jan. 23 opinion.
The appeals court analyzed the issue using the standard governing compelled commercial speech established in the 1985 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Zauderer v. Office of Disciplinary Counsel of the Supreme Court of Ohio.
The 4th Circuit said the compelled speech is constitutional under Zauderer because it is commercial, it is factual and uncontroversial, it is reasonably related to the county’s interest in preventing suicide, and it is not unduly burdensome.
“We conclude that the pamphlet is simply, and no more, a public health and safety advisory that does not discourage the purchase or ownership of guns,” the appeals court said in an opinion by Judge Paul V. Niemeyer, an appointee of former President Ronald Reagan.
“And we are confident that gun purchasers in Anne Arundel County will recognize it as such. While such an advisory surely does not discourage gun ownership or undermine Second Amendment rights, it does encourage generous responses to a serious public health issue, and gun dealers might well find it admirable to join the effort,” the 4th Circuit said.
The case is Maryland Shall Issue Inc. v. Anne Arundel County, Maryland.