Battle over National City gun billboard
A resurging National City is seeing new businesses pop up on almost every city block. And as they do, the old rooftop signs – some of them eyesores – disappear.
“Once that business went out of business and a new business came in,” said National City Mayor Ron Morrison, “the sign had to come down.”
Caught in the crosshairs of that new ordinance is a gun parts store called Ares Armor, who was ordered to take down its sign but is defiantly refusing to do so.
“The fact is we were told city council members were coming after us for the message the sign conveys,” said Ares Armor owner Dustin Bortin. “That's targeting.”
The business owner is convinced the city is violating his First Amendment right to free speech. The mayor insists the business owner is violating the city ordinance.
“It's content-neutral, it has nothing to do with content of the sign,” said Mayor Morrison, “(the issue is) it's a rooftop sign.”
Bortin says an off-duty police officer dropped by and tipped him off that the city was targeting the sign.
“As we were told, it's because (the sign has) got a big gun on it,” said Bortin. “It's a very jarring message to send.”
The mayor says he has no problem with the message.
“I'm a gun collector myself, so I have no problem with the idea of guns that are used properly,” said Mayor Morrison.
The business owner says he and his partners set out to design a sign that gets attention. Now, they're going to fight to keep it there.
“It is a First Amendment issue,” said Bortin. “We were targeted based on the message our sign says, which is a First Amendment issue. We have the right to free speech. We have the right to make political statements. And we have the right to advertise commercially.”
Other businesses still have rooftop signs, even a new restaurant where the manager tells KUSI the city approved his sign, then told him to take it down once word got out about Ares Armor. As a show of defiance, the gun parts store sent the mayor a gift… a t-shirt bearing the slogan, “I will not comply,” along with a bill for $31.
How far will this go? As far as it needs to go until they prevail, according to Ares Armor. They've retained counsel and the complaint is drawn. The city council will hear the appeal in the next two weeks.