California Governor Gavin Newsom signed the gun control AB 160 trailer bill into law on September 29, 2022, amending AB 2571, which was passed in July, that made youth firearms education, including the State’s Youth Hunter Safety training program, illegal.
The hastily passed AB 2571 had national repercussions, causing many firearms-related activities and websites to grind to a halt and go offline, or else they face hefty fines of up to $25,000 per page impression. The California Grizzlies Junior Highpower Rifle Team’s website, the only junior team to ever win the Infantry Trophy at the US National Matches at Camp Perry, Ohio, went dark. The NRA’s website installed an “ask your age” pop-up before allowing anyone in the world to view content. Shooting ranges throughout California posted signs informing visitors that no one under the age of 18, shooting or not, was allowed on the property. The only website displaying youth messaging that remained untouched was the State of California’s official program, as it was clearly unlikely that the Department of Justice would fine the Department of Fish and Game.
Gun rights activists sprang into action, filing lawsuits on Second and First Amendment grounds, challenging a law whose original intent seemed aimed more at the firearms, entertainment, toy, and fashion accessories industries restraining their trade by, in the original wording, making any message that could be seen by a minor a finable offense. It was a chilling form of censorship, and it’s unintended consequence was to ban teaching children gun safety, marksmanship, hunting, and firearms sportsmanship.
Realizing the error and exposure to the State of California committed by “firing blind and not knowing your target and what is beyond it,” as lawsuits began to move through the courts to an inevitable injunction, the California Legislature fast-tracked a trailer bill, AB 160, that amends AB 2571 as follows,
Section 22949.80 of the Business and Professions Code is amended to read:
(a) (1) A firearm industry member shall not advertise, market, or arrange for placement of an advertising or marketing communication offering or promoting any firearm-related product in a manner that is designed, intended, or reasonably appears to be attractive to minors.
(2) In determining whether marketing or advertising of a firearm-related product is attractive to minors, as described in paragraph (1), a court shall consider the totality of the circumstances, including, but not limited to, whether the marketing or advertising:
(A) Uses caricatures that reasonably appear to be minors or cartoon characters to promote firearm-related products.
(B) Offers brand name merchandise for minors, including, but not limited to, hats, t-shirts, or other clothing, or toys, games, or stuffed animals, that promotes a firearm industry member or firearm-related product.
(C) Offers firearm-related products in sizes, colors, or designs that are specifically designed to be used by, or appeal to, minors.
(D) Is part of a marketing or advertising campaign designed with the intent to appeal to minors.
(E) Uses images or depictions of minors in advertising and marketing materials to depict the use of firearm-related products.
(F) Is placed in a publication created for the purpose of reaching an audience that is predominately composed of minors and not intended for a more general audience composed of adults.
(3) This subdivision does not apply to a communication offering or promoting any firearm safety program, hunting safety or promotional program, firearm instructional course, sport shooting event or competition, or any similar program, course, or event, nor does it apply to a communication offering or promoting membership in any organization, or promotion of lawful hunting activity, including, but not limited to, any fundraising event, youth hunting program, or outdoor camp.
The bill was signed into law by Governor Newsom on the 29th of September and published in the state record on October 3, 2022.
Clearly, the hope of the state is that this amended law will short circuit the lawsuits now sitting on court dockets. But questions remain. The California Rifle and Pistol Association (CRPA) comment on the changes by AB 160 ponders if leaving posters on display at facilities, giving printed training material, which is often donated to teaching programs saving volunteer organizations significant costs, or even discussing appropriate equipment for competition, hunting, or recreational shooting is permissible.
And there is the question of who is a firearms industry member under AB 2571 and AB 160. Shooting ranges, which often donate space to volunteer groups for teaching, are also members of the National Shooting Sports Foundation–the very essence of a firearms industry group–, to take advantage of the NSSSF’s range management training and maintenance programs, as well as the NSSF’s public service mission of facilitating training and awareness of federal gun regulations by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the BATFE. Does membership for good causes such as these run afoul of California’s laws, even with this latest revision?
Note that certain aspects of AB 160’s wording are specifically prejudicial against certain youth firearms safety education programs. The reference to a cartoon character or caricature is clearly aimed at the National Rifle Association’s Eddie Eagle gun safety program, which is credited with pioneering child safety around firearms. The restraint of trade against clothing in children’s sizes remains, which could create legal standing for some sort of lawsuit. What happens the next time someone wants to buy a youth sized competition shooting coat to try to win at the US National Matches or to train as a future Olympian?