Bullhorn Permit??

One of my buddies was horsing around with a megaphone this weekend – he was announcing an impromptu ski race. The police showed up and told him that he needed a “megaphone permit” in order to OWN a megaphone [perhaps he meant “use”?]. Anyway – we have been reviewing the city permit page and can’t find the requisite paperwork. Should the authorities have referenced a different regulation? Anybody have experience with this?

41 Comments

Paul Lundgren

about 7 years ago

The Duluth City Council passed a noise ordinance in 1999 targeting car stereos, but I assume it would also apply to bullhorns. It's phrased in the ordinance as any "electronically amplified sound," but excludes car horns and theft devices. It's a petty misdemeanor if your device can be heard more than 50 feet away in any direction. Obviously this has proven to be a confusing and difficult to enforce ordinance, but it nonetheless exists.

Maybe a megaphone permit allows people to get around the noise ordinance for special events or something.

Shane

about 7 years ago

The text of the code from a link on the City of Duluth's website:

Sec. 34-24. Sound broadcasting devices. Except as provided in this Section, the use of sound broadcasting devices which broadcast commercial advertising or other announcements in or over the public highways or public grounds of the city, either in, from or on a moving vehicle or otherwise, by means of any recording equipment, sound truck, amplifier, phonograph or other sound broadcasting service is hereby prohibited. Nothing contained in this Section shall be deemed to prevent or prohibit the use of any sound broadcasting device by the police division, the fire division and the civil defense agency of the city, by the county sheriff, by any duly authorized officer of the militia, military, naval and armed forces of the state or of the United States when the use of such sound broadcasting device is made necessary for the preservation and protection of the public peace, health or safety. Nor shall anything contained in this Section be deemed to prevent the use of any sound broadcasting device in connection with the holding of a parade or special event which is or has been duly authorized by the city. Nor shall this Section be deemed to forbid the use of any sound broadcasting device in or upon any place or ground where there is in progress an athletic event or other form of public amusement or entertainment permissible under this Code or other ordinances of the city and the statutes of the state. (Ord. No. 7093, §§ 3, 5.)
The last part of the code exempts athletic events and other special events. So the question is, does an impromptu ski race need a permit to be considered an athletic event? If you had an official city of Duluth race permit, which is on the city's permit page, you would then be allowed to use a megaphone for the event.

wskyline

about 7 years ago

I'm not sure about the permitting, but my mom experienced some gross street harassment the other day by two young men driving around in a truck yelling things through a megaphone at women walking in canal. I really wish a cop had been around to give them a ticket for megaphone use in that instance. I can see how it is a good ordinance for that situation, probably less so for an impromptu ski race.

Emerickson

about 7 years ago

That ordinance seems to violate the First Amendment by being overly broad. The government can't prohibit the use of sound broadcasting equipment on all public grounds 24 hours a day, leaving only minor exceptions for emergency/government personnel and certain city-approved activities. Public parks are constantly cited by the Supreme Court as being traditional venues for free speech and restrictions upon such speech are typically deemed unconstitutional. This includes the use of mega phones, signs, soap boxes, etc. The city could implement reasonable time and place restrictions, such as not allowing loud broadcasting after a certain time of day, but the government cannot flat out prohibit mega phone use 24 hours a day in public. I don't know what's more ridiculous, the law or the fact that the police are wasting time enforcing it when there is real crime going on out there.

Barrett Chase

about 7 years ago

Limiting the use of sound amplification in absolutely no way violates the First Amendment. 

You have the right to free speech. You do not have the right to amplify your free speech. Restricting amplification does not prevent you from speaking your mind. It only limits the volume at which you may do so.

[email protected]

about 7 years ago

By the same analogy, wouldn't restricting the use of a printing press to just "those with a permit" be also not limiting speech, just the distribution of that speech?

Seems specious to me, Barrett.

[email protected]

about 7 years ago

...not even the distribution -- the mass production of that speech?

Emerickson

about 7 years ago

Actually, according to the Supreme Court it does infringe on free speech. The First Amendment does not simply protect your right to say what you want. Having just finished my second year of law school and my second semester of Constitutional Law, including an in depth study of the First Amendment and related Supreme Court rulings, I have seen many cases like this. It is illegal for cities to completely ban the use of sound trucks. It is illegal for cities to completely ban picketing in residential neighborhoods. It is illegal to ban people in parks from holding signs. Not only does the First Amendment protect the content of speech, it also protects the manner of expression. Public parks are public forums and as such provide the highest level of protection for freedom of expression, even if that means amplifying what you have to say.

Paul Lundgren

about 7 years ago

The First Amendment doesn't grant anyone the absolute right to yell into a megaphone in front of your home at 3 a.m. There are limits to your freedom of speech. 

If you are hiring inexperienced 12-year-olds to run your printing press, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration can shut it down and not be infringing on your rights. There are limits to your freedom of speech. 

Where the line is drawn is argued in courts all the time, and it's not always obvious what is and is not legal, but one thing is certain: There are limits to your freedom of speech.

[email protected]

about 7 years ago

OSHA violations are not the same as limiting freedom of speech, anymore than requiring a driver's license to drive a car with a megaphone on top is a limitation of freedom of speech.

What is this, specious argument day?

--db

Barrett Chase

about 7 years ago

rhethoricguy: using your analogy, I encourage you to try and start a radio station without permits, and see what happens. Or a TV station. The FCC can and does require permits and licenses for certain types of communication technology. It isn't unheard of. 

Emerickson: You keep using the phrase "completely ban," but I never said anything about completely banning sound amplification. I used the word "limiting" which is very different from a flat-out ban.

Paul Lundgren

about 7 years ago

Rhetoric Guy, restricting the use of a printing press is not the same as restricting the use of a bullhorn. We can draw comparisons or we can decide that drawing comparisons is misleading.

There are laws governing the use of sound devices such as bullhorns. Is that unconstitutional? Tell me how it is. (Warning: analogies may be considered specious.)

Shane

about 7 years ago

Just out of curiosity, where was the impromptu ski race held?

[email protected]

about 7 years ago

I guess that few of us are constitutional law experts, but Lexis Nexis tells me that megaphone laws are constitutional given that "speech-restrictive injunctions should be judged by a standard: they must burden no more speech than necessary to serve a significant government interest." What significant public interest is served?

More: you do not have a right, by some interpretation, not to listen to someone else unless that occurs on your own private property (e.g. It is illegal to picket someone's house -- megaphone or not -- because free speech cannot be forced into someone's private property.  But, for example: "the Supreme Court has explicitly rejected the interests of the unwilling listeners as justifying restrictions on protected speech in a public forum. In Erznoznik, the Supreme Court struck down a government restriction prohibiting the drive-in movie theaters from showing movies containing obscenity because it could be seen from the street. The restriction was enacted because many people driving down the street past the movie screen objected to such offensive scenes. Though these individuals were understandably offended and bothered by the speech on the movie screens, and even though such reaction of offense was understood and appreciated by the Court, such was not a permissible justification for restricting protected speech. The privacy interests of the unwilling listeners were not being "invaded in an essentially intolerable manner." Because they were on a public street and not held captive for an extended period of time, the Court determined that they could not be protected at the expense of freedom of speech." 

Further; "the Supreme Court held that the government could not prohibit a man from walking in a courthouse wearing a jacket with the words "Fuck the Draft" on the back. Rather, the burden fell on the unwilling viewers to avert their eyes and leave the area where he was, because such was not an intolerable invasion of their privacy."

I don't see an interest here that the government needs to serve by regulating megaphone use, and at best, I can see an injunction only against the places where a megaphone may be used, not against their use at all unless with a permit.

duluth_bishop

about 7 years ago

The race took place on West Niagara Street.  I'm guessing that the authority's message of "needing a permit to own a bullhorn" wasn't intended literally.  The race involved moving snow onto Niagara street in two places as the coarse evolved to extend on both sides of the street.  They didn't have a problem with that.  All in all I guess the Police were in favor of some "good, clean collegiate fun" and were simply trying to temper the broadcasting to appease a disgruntled citizen [although there was neighborhood support as people set up lawn chairs to watch and the students provided hotdogs and refreshments to their guests].  But their initial comment of "needing a bullhorn permit" seemed a bit odd.

Allen Richardson

about 7 years ago

As a bullhorn enthusiast, I've had several encounters with the police on this point. Lt. Rish and I had a good long sit down on this very topic. What it boils down to is that it is up to the Officer's discretion. Needing a bullhorn permit is malarkey. But when I gave Lt. Rish a courtesy call the other week that we were going to be using a bullhorn at a rally for the Post Office his reply was "Oh, so you want permission to break the law?" Lets see if we can get the Lt. to clarify for us in this format.

Using a bullhorn is a legitimate instrument of protest and there is no shortage of legitimate shit to protest. You keyboard commandos should try it sometime.

Shane

about 7 years ago

Somewhere, not sure if it was in a class or just advice I was given, I heard the following:

"The police are not required to be experts in the law, they just enforce the law."

One also must consider that, the ordinance in question was instituted to primarily prohibit loud car stereos. The overly broad nature of the ordinance, probably indicates that the point of it is not to have an outright ban on sound amplification, but to give the local police some law to use to stop the use of loud sound amplification in response to complaints.

moosetracks

about 7 years ago

I saw this impromptu ski race, it was on East Niagara street. As a neighbor of the event, I was more concerned about the kids on the roof of the house and shed than how loud it was. It was a little loud, but it was the middle of the afternoon and looked amusing. I just hoped no one would break their neck falling off the roof.

Paul Lundgren

about 7 years ago

I think there is a general consensus here (not necessarily definitive proof, but reasonable certainty) that there is no requirement in Duluth for a "megaphone permit" -- that was either a police officer misspeaking or being misunderstood -- and there is little or no public desire for such a silly thing to exist.

As to whether regulating bullhorn use is unconstitutional, the answer is perhaps best summarized as "obviously not in general, but if the law were unreasonably restrictive it could be considered unconstitutional."

Terry G.

about 7 years ago

Too much Homegrown (and sorry for the highjack) but all I'm seeing here are a bunch of great band names:

1. Specious Argument
2. Truck Yelling Things
3. Bullhorn Enthusiast
4. Gross Street Harassment

Barrett Chase

about 7 years ago

5. Keyboard Commandos

gluvin

about 7 years ago

Chase:  The FCC regulates the broadcast of radio signals for issues of maintaining emergency communication services, protecting commerce, and protecting the environment.  An improper radio signal can interfere with other radio signals that operate at or near that frequency.  

A bullhorn typically does not emit a strong radio signal and therefore is not subject to FCC regulation requiring a license to use. 

That being said, sounds like people had fun.  I am kinda bummed I missed it!

Barrett Chase

about 7 years ago

Gluvin: I was not the one making a comparison between megaphones and other forms of communication technology. I was merely pointing out the flaws in rhetoricguy's analogy. I didn't suggest that the FCC should regulate the use of megaphones, only that there are forms of communication technology that are subject to at least some sort of limitations.

[email protected]

about 7 years ago

Notably, responses seem to still be focused on the analogy instead of the actual legal precedent drawn from legal databases.

Barrett Chase

about 7 years ago

Okay, rhetoricguy. You wrote: "you do not have a right, by some interpretation, not to listen to someone else unless that occurs on your own private property (e.g. It is illegal to picket someone's house — megaphone or not — because free speech cannot be forced into someone's private property."

So if you live across the street from a park, and I use a megaphone in that park which is audible inside your house, I might be breaking the law.

This actually supports the point I've been trying to make, which is that technologies are subject to reasonable restrictions, and as long as those restrictions are reasonable, they are not unconstitutional. Take for example your citation about the drive-in movie theater. Sure, the court was not allowed to ban the content of the movies being shown because that would violate the rights of the theater owners. However, if the city had enacted zoning laws prior to the construction of the theater that stated that a drive-in screen must not be visible from a public road, that would be a different matter, and I'd wager it would be difficult to argue that such a zoning law was in violation of anyone's First Amendment rights.

My point, once again, is that the First Amendment does not guarantee your ability to broadcast your message in every conceivable manner without any limitation at all. 

For example, let's say Kia of Duluth invests in air-raid siren technology, placed in every neighborhood, and uses that technology to broadcast Kia commercials every 15 minutes throughout the day and night at near-deafening volume. Is that within their First Amendment rights? Does the community have any recourse to prevent such a thing from happening or at least limit its impact on quality of life? Or is all speech protected all the time, in every circumstance, using any device or technology, at any time of day, no matter what?

Freedom of Speech is not an absolute right. The government can and does place certain reasonable restrictions. I'm not saying that Duluth has or needs a megaphone permit law. I'm saying that it is conceivable that such a law could be implemented in such a way that it does not violate the constitution.

[email protected]

about 7 years ago

"I'm saying that it is conceivable that such a law could be implemented in such a way that it does not violate the constitution."

Of course it's conceivable.  However, if the "megaphone" law is the law cited in the second post, I'm not sure it would stand up to the precedents cited above.

Barrett Chase

about 7 years ago

How so, exactly? In those precedents, they attempted and failed to regulate the content of the offending messages. The sound ordinance limits the use of certain types of technology in public places, regardless of content.

TimK

about 7 years ago

When megaphones are outlawed, only assholes will have megaphones.

[email protected]

about 7 years ago

1. I'm not sure that exempting sports wouldn't at least test the idea that this law is content-neutral.

2. The decisions above also established that, in public places, there is no right not to hear what someone else is saying. (The confines of your own home are different -- you have a right not to have to listen while in your own home.) The noise ordinance seems predicated to me on a right not to have to listen to someone else even in public spaces -- a right explicitly denied in the above rulings.

baci

about 7 years ago

Try and pry this megaphone from my cold, dead hand.

emmadogs

about 7 years ago

Here is a Lexis link to Madsen vs. Women's Health Center, 512 u.s. 753, a U.S. Supreme Court case that addresses this.

Chickonen

about 7 years ago

Aren't existing noise ordinances enough? Confusing and difficult to enforce laws are often inconsistently and unfairly applied.

Megaphones are a sensitive issue because they have been a useful protest tool. But has other technology rendered them non-essential? Crowds these days are organized through social networking. 

But if athletic events get an exemption, why wouldn't lawful protests get an exemption as well? Because protests shouldn't be noisy and disruptive? Huh?

Chickonen

about 7 years ago

Also, I am definitely not a legal scholar but I don't know that Madsen v. Women's Health Center establishes precedent for a blanket ordinance prohibiting the use of megaphones. As I understand it, the decision involved balancing free speech rights with the well-being of patients at the clinic. You could hardly argue that a blanket ordinance is always balanced against health and safety. More often than not, it's going to be a noise/disruption complaint.

And let's also remember that when a police officer tells someone that they need a permit to do something, it rarely results in a legal challenge. So there is a chilling effect.

Barrett Chase

about 7 years ago

Aren't existing noise ordinances enough? Confusing and difficult to enforce laws are often inconsistently and unfairly applied.

I don't think anyone here is advocating for a new law. This is just a friendly armchair debate about the one that exists.

Chickonen

about 7 years ago

Right. I'm referring to the 1999 ordinance that Paul described as "confusing and difficult to enforce." Unless it's necessary to prevent something egregious, I don't see why we need it. And a strong case can be made that "confusing and difficult to enforce" is problematic alone.

Barrett Chase

about 7 years ago

That ordinance specifically states that it applies only to motor vehicles, so it wouldn't apply to megaphones. But yeah, I agree it's a dumb ordinance.

Shane

about 7 years ago

Is the current ordinance the same as the 1999 ordinance?

Barrett Chase

about 7 years ago

Here's the one Paul was referencing in the first comment, as it currently stands. Shane, the one you cited above is 34-24. This is 34-23:



Sec. 34-23. Vehicle noise limits for electronically amplified sound. (a) No motor vehicle, as defined in Section 33-1 of this Code, shall emit any electronically amplified sounds that are plainly audible at a distance of 50 feet from the vehicle, provided that this Section shall not apply to: (1) Sirens, horns or other signaling devices used by an authorized emergency vehicle as defined in Minnesota Statutes Section 169.01; (2) Vehicles in parades or other civic celebrations duly authorized by the city; (3) Motor vehicle horns when actually used as a warning of danger; (4) Anti-theft devices installed on motor vehicles; (b) Violations of this Section are punishable by fines of not to exceed those set in accordance with Section 31-8 of this Code for the first and second offenses and a fine as provided in Section 1-7 of this Code for all subsequent offenses.

lojasmo

about 7 years ago

First amendment violation.  No.  Just no.

lojasmo

about 7 years ago

There is no "complete ban" here.  Stop,

mlatsch

about 7 years ago

I won't wade into the legal issues, but I can say as a matter of culture the upper midwest has very low tolerance to public sound systems relative to say, Mexico or Guatemala. Can you imagine a LP tank truck like this driving down your street at least 1x/day? 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wfbwUwfvCCg

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