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Surrendering Rights In San Francisco?

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

by Marshall Lewin

Last December, five members of San Francisco's board of supervisors submitted to the Department of Elections a proposed law that would ban the possession of handguns and the sale, manufacture and transfer of all firearms and ammunition in the city and county of San Francisco. The proposal has been placed on the November 8 special election ballot.

If a simple majority of voters approves Proposition H on that day, the ban will take effect on Jan. 1, 2006.

After that, San Francisco gun owners will have 90 days to surrender their firearms to authorities. Since all handgun sales are now registered in California, confiscation of firearms from honest, peaceable citizens will presumably begin sometime soon after that.

"It's just the worst kind of political cynicism," said NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre. "San Francisco's city fathers either can't or won't control armed violent criminals, and now they want to shift the blame for their own dereliction onto honest gun owners and Second Amendment freedom."Not only is that dishonest," LaPierre continued, "but it could also prove deadly. Washington, D.C., and Chicago have proven the point for decades now: When you disarm honest people, you empower predators and victimize the innocent."

Compounding Failure with Fraud

Supervisor Chris Daly, the 29-year-old chief sponsor of the ban, who grabbed headlines last November by shouting an obscenity at members of the public who had attended a committee hearing, claims the reason he proposed the gun ban for San Francisco was because of the city's escalating murder and violent crime rates.

Although San Francisco's murder rate did jump by 24 percent--from 71 homicides in 2003 to 88 in 2004--it's by no means clear that the Right to Keep and Bear Arms is the problem, or that disarming lawful citizens is the solution.

According to Chuck Michel, an attorney for the California Rifle and Pistol Association (CRPA), San Francisco already has more local gun-control ordinances than any other city in the state of California.

In 2000, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed a law that holds gun manufacturers, importers and retailers financially liable for "all direct and consequential damages" of gun-related deaths or injuries, whether or not the firearms were defective and whether or not the manufacturers, importers or dealers were negligent.

Even though no gang-banger has seen fit to carry a four-foot-long, 30-pound, $7,000 rifle on the street, the city banned ownership of .50 caliber rifles, solving another non-problem with another non solution.

They banned so-called "Saturday Night Specials," their focus group-tested demon term for affordable handguns.

They banned so-called "ultra compact handguns" whose only offending characteristic is being less than about 6 3/4 inches long, or 4 1/2 inches high.

Every firearm transfer, even between friends, must go through a California licensed and federally-licensed dealer. Every firearm purchased --handgun or long gun--requires a waiting period of 10 days. Every hand-gun purchaser is registered with the California Department of Justice.

It goes on and on, as eternal as the spring.

Last April, San Francisco Supervisor Gerardo Sandoval pushed a ban on gun shows, arguing that the mere presence of a gun show is "insulting" to San Franciscans, and that "banning gun shows would send a profound message of respect to the nearby citizens."

"Does it really show more 'respect' for San Francisco citizens to give them empty sentiment instead of real safety?" asked LaPierre. "What good is it to pass laws against honest, law-abiding people when the laws against violent, armed, dangerous people aren't enforced?"

San Francisco could surely be called a test case in that respect.

More Laws, Less Enforcement

Indeed, despite having more anti-gun laws than any other city in California, San Francisco was also less successful than any other large city in California at actually enforcing those laws.

In 2002, the San Francisco Chronicle released the results of a seven-month computer analysis of San Francisco Police Department records and found that, "Violent criminals who prey on San Francisco's residents and visitors have a better chance of getting away with their crimes than predators in any other large American city."

"Violent criminals who prey on San Francisco's residents and visitors have a better chance of getting away with their crimes than predators in any other large American city."

Between 1996 and 2000, according to the Chronicle, police solved only

28 percent of the city's murders, rapes, robberies, shootings, stabbings and aggravated assaults--the lowest crime clearance rate in any of America's 20 biggest cities.

For comparison, the national average was 42 percent. In San Jose, 50 minutes down the bay from San Francisco, the average clearance rate was 49 percent.

As the Chronicle's staff writers pointed out, "Despite having more resources and less crime than many other big cities, the (San Francisco) department solved just half of the murders and less than a third of the rapes reported in the city during the five years studied."

Worse yet, of the few criminals who actually are caught, fewer still see any significant punishment, since San Francisco's "enlightened" leaders lack either the stomach or the backbone to allow the law to serve as it was intended.

Meanwhile, District Attorney Kamala D. Harris the city's chief law enforcement officer, implemented a new "zero tolerance" charging policy for so-called "gun crimes." Under this new policy, Harris recommended that anyone convicted of carrying a concealed firearm be sentenced to at least three months in jail, and that anyone in possession of a so-called "assault weapon"--whose definition changes in California with the weather--be charged with a felony. CRPA's Michel said, "While we applaud efforts to go after violent felons, Cali fornia's gun control laws are incredibly complex. Accidental violations by good people are common."

"What's really scary and outrageous," said NRA-ILA Executive Director Chris W. Cox, "is that San Francisco apparently can't catch criminals very well, it won't prosecute those it does catch, and now it wants to deny citizens their constitutional right to protect themselves from those very same criminals. It's all just a diversionary tactic."

As Cox points out, Chicago and Washington, D.C., are poster children for the tragic failure of that kind of thinking.

Unconditional Surrender

Washington, D.C., banned all handguns in 1976.

Chicago banned the sale and acquisition of handguns in 1982.

If San Francisco's Board of Supervisors really wanted to protect its citizens from crime, they would run, not walk, from the mere idea of banning civilian handgun ownership.

Economist John R. Lott, then of the University of Chicago Law School, did an exhaustive, year-by-year analysis of crime trends in all 3,054 counties of the U.S., and from that research wrote the authoritative book More Guns, Less Crime.

According to Lott, the Washington, D.C., and Chicago gun bans have done far more harm than good. He points out that in the five years prior to the Washington, D.C., gun ban, the capital city's per-capita murder rate fell by 27%. After the ban, that trend reversed.

In fact, within five years, Washington's per-capita murder rate climbed by 3%. Robberies spiked by nearly 63%. With all lawfully-owned firearms required to be disassembled, unloaded and locked up under D.C.'s "safe storage" mandates, residents weren't even safe in their own homes anymore: In five years, burglaries increased by 56%.

"The five-year trends are not some aberration," Lott wrote in National Review Online. "In fact, while murder rates have varied over time, during the almost 30 years since the ban, the murder rate has only once fallen below what it was in 1976."

Chicago's gun ban, Lott found, also ushered in a new era of crime.

"Chicago's gun ban didn't work at all when it came to reducing violence," Lott wrote. "Its murder rate fell from 27 to 22 per 100,000 in the five years before the law, and then rose slightly to 23. The change is even more dramatic when compared to five neighboring Illinois counties: Chicago's murder rate fell from being 8.1 times greater than its neighbors in 1977 to 5.5 times in 1982 (when the gun ban was passed), and then went way up to 12 times greater in 1987."

Indeed, New York City's population is well over twice that of Chicago's, yet in 2003, some 599 murders were committed in Chicago--three more murders than in New York.

Why California Endangers Your Rights

San Francisco voters who care about their safety would be wise to pay heed. As things stand now, the San Francisco handgun ban--Prop H-- will be on the November 8 ballot. The NRA is fighting to defeat the proposition, and to fight it in court if it is accepted by San Francisco voters.

"People seem to think that what happens in California doesn't affect them, or that they can just wall off California and not worry about what happens here," Michel said, "but what people need to understand is that California is the source of a lot of the anti-gun strategies we see all over the country.

"Anti-gun lawyers in San Francisco are using millions of dollars in block grants from leftist foundations to come up with creative legal theories and then market those theories and offer their assistance to anti-gun groups in other states."

LaPierre agreed: "For decades, California has been the staging ground, or test case, for anti-gun activists. Over and over again, we've seen anti-gun proposals go straight from Sacramento to the halls of the U.S. Congress. So we're going to fight this latest anti-gun gambit--not just for the sake of California's gun owners, but for the Second Amendment freedoms of every American."

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Established in 1975, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) is the "lobbying" arm of the National Rifle Association of America. ILA is responsible for preserving the right of all law-abiding individuals in the legislative, political, and legal arenas, to purchase, possess and use firearms for legitimate purposes as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.