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California Appeals Court Strikes Down San Francisco Handgun Ban

Friday, January 11, 2008

On January 9, the California Court of Appeals agreed with a lower court ruling that struck down San Francisco's handgun ban as a violation of California's state preemption law.  The ruling was in response to an NRA-led challenge to the ban.   

The city law, passed as Proposition H on the 2005 ballot, prohibited handgun possession, as well as firearms and ammunition manufacturing or sales.  For law-abiding residents, the law was even more severe than the handgun bans in Washington, D.C. or Chicago.  Unlike those cities, San Francisco had no "grandfather clause," so San Francisco residents would have had to dispose of handguns within 90 days. 

The case underscores the importance of NRA-backed state preemption laws.  Forty-three states have preemption statutes.  California's version prohibits local governments from banning handgun possession, and from establishing their own licensing and registration systems. In its decision, the court noted that California already has nearly 100 pages of state gun laws, and that "the state and local acts are irreconcilable, clearly repugnant, and so inconsistent that the two cannot have concurrent operation." 

San Francisco's last try at banning handguns, led by then-Mayor Dianne Feinstein, also ran afoul of the state's preemption law according to the Court of Appeals in 1982.  In the current case, the appeals court noted that there was "no subsequent case which has overruled, disapproved of, or even sought to limit or clarify [the 1982] decision." 

San Francisco claimed that the gun ban was necessary as an anti-crime measure.  The court rejected that idea, noting, "[T]he City's arguments fail to acknowledge that the ordinance will affect more than just criminals. It will also affect every City resident who has not, through some demonstration of personal disability or irresponsibility, lost his or her right to possess a handgun." 

The idea that there is a right to possess a handgun at all would be news to San Francisco's district attorney, Kamala Harris.  Sworn in for a second term the same day the Court of Appeals decision was announced, Harris announced that her office would join other cities to file a "friend of the court" brief defending the District of Columbia handgun and self-defense ban. 

Coming just as Supreme Court briefs are being filed in the Washington, D.C. case, the San Francisco decision is an important reminder that the Second Amendment isn't the only basis for challenging even the most extreme anti-gun laws.  While it's unknown at press time whether the city will appeal to the California Supreme Court, NRA's legal team will continue the practical approach that has brought victory, so far, for the long-suffering gun owners of San Francisco.

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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.