Judge Overturns San Francisco Gun Ban
June 12, 2006
A state trial judge sided Monday with the National Rifle Association in overturning a voter-approved city ordinance that banned handgun possession and firearm sales in San Francisco.
Proposition H was placed on the November ballot by the San Francisco County Board of Supervisors, who were frustrated by an alarmingly high number of gun-related homicides in the city of 750,000. The NRA sued a day after 58 percent of voters approved the law.
In siding with the gun owners, San Francisco County Superior Court Judge James Warren said a local government cannot ban weapons because the California Legislature allows their sale and possession.
Warren wrote in a 30-page ruling that the Legislature has passed a "myriad of laws" on handgun possession and use, thus pre-empting local laws.
"These laws support the argument that California has an overarching concern in controlling gun use by defining the circumstances under which firearms can be possessed uniformly across the state, without having this statewide scheme contradicted or subverted by local policy," he wrote.
Proposition H banned possession of handguns except by law enforcement officers and other such as security guards who need guns for professional purposes. It also prohibited the sale, manufacture, transfer and distribution of firearms within the city by residents.
But since the ordinance targeted only city residents, it meant nonresidents in the city or even tourists were not banned from possessing or selling guns here.
"My clients are thrilled that the court recognized that law-abiding firearms owners who choose to own a gun to defend themselves or their families are part of the solution and not part of the problem," NRA attorney Chuck Michel said. "Hopefully, the city will recognize that gun owners can contribute to the effort to fight the criminal misuse of firearms, a goal that we all share."
Warren's decision was not unexpected. In 1982, a California appeals court nullified an almost identical San Francisco gun ban largely on grounds that the city cannot enact an ordinance that conflicts with state law.
But years later, in 1998, a state appeals court upheld West Hollywood's ban on the sale of so-called Saturday night specials, small and cheap handguns that city leaders said contributed to violent crime. And three years ago, the California Supreme Court ruled in favor of Los Angeles and Alameda counties, saying local governments could ban the possession and sale of weapons on government property, such as fairgrounds.
That decision, however, did not address the issue of private property sales and possession, as outlined in the San Francisco law.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit also is considering a challenge to a similar handgun ban in the District of Columbia that alleges the law violates a Second Amendment right of individuals to bear arms.
The NRA lawsuit here avoided those allegations.
Matt Dorsey, a spokesman for City Attorney Dennis Herrera, whose office unsuccessfully defended the law before Warren, said the city was mulling whether it was going to appeal.
"We're disappointed that the court has denied the right of voters to enact a reasonable, narrowly tailored restriction on handgun possession," Dorsey said. "San Francisco voters spoke loud and clear on the issue of gun violence."
In November, San Francisco recorded its 90th homicide, up two from the previous year.
The case is Fiscal v. San Francisco 05-505960.
The bill clearly wasn't about gun violence. It was about banning legal possession and sales. How is that gun violence?