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In California, anti-gun-violence lawyers are trying to turn gun marketers' own advertising into a weapon against them.

They're accusing three gun companies, Intratec Firearms and two others, of employing a marketing program "directed at criminals." The evidence they offer would turn ad puffery into something sinister and nefarious-a brochure touts the Intratec gun as being "as tough as your toughest customer"; a "resistant to finger prints" claim is said to appeal to lawbreakers (though others say it refers to corrosion-resistance properties).

Their first ad-based lawsuit looks mighty flimsy, and the California state courts should quickly reject it. But even then, there's trouble ahead.

While the First Amendment protects truthful ads, this suit suggests gun marketing programs-every word, picture and innuendo-are now at greater risk.

Even under California's unfair business practices statute, the kind of "evidence" presented here should never justify a liability finding. If anything, it smacks of harassment. Nevertheless, gun marketers will hereafter have to scrutinize their promotional efforts more carefully than ever and be prepared to defend them in courts of law. And, more importantly, before the court of public opinion.

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