BY JEREMY MOULE
There’s a public bus driving around Rochester with an ad for Jackson Guns and Ammo — a gun shop with locations in Henrietta and Scottville — on its side. Does the ad belong there? Elena O’Connor, a resident of the 19th Ward, says it doesn’t.
“In a place that sees violence, I think it’s just not appropriate,” she says.
O’Connor says it’s not about the gun shop; she objects to the bus passing through troubled city neighborhoods advertising where people can buy guns. She’s contacted City Council members to see if they can help get the ad removed.
But it’s not that simple. The Rochester Genesee Regional Transportation Authority receives federal transit funds and must abide by federal, state, and local laws, says Corwin Marsh, a spokesperson for the agency.
Public bus operators nationwide have dealt with complaints and disagreements about bus ads. And since previous conflicts have been decided in the courts, there are legal precedents to follow. In several cases, bus operators have been required to accept ads they originally rejected.
The RGRTA leases ad space on its buses to Normal Communications, a Rochester-based advertising firm.
The gun shop is a legitimate business and the ad is not graphic or indecent, says Arnie Rothschild, Normal’s president and chief operating officer. And the ad doesn’t advocate violence or illegal gun sales, he says.
Rothschild says there’s no basis to reject the ad. Historically, when he’s received complaints about ads on buses or at the county airport, he says he’ll explain to the complainant what his agency can and can’t control. But in many cases, he says, it’s a matter of tastes.
Some people are offended by breastfeeding ads, and those displays are often stolen or mutilated, Rothschild says. The largest user of RGRTA’s bus ad space is the state Department of Health, and people are sometimes offended by those ads, Rothschild says, including public service announcements about safer sex.
“We’re dealing with people’s political beliefs and we’re not the arbiter of that,” Rothschild says.