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Political Report: NRA-ILA Wins Court Victories On Two Coasts

Friday, June 27, 2008

The Supreme Court has handed down its landmark decision in the Heller case, but we must also remember that legal skirmishes over our Second Amendment rights are not limited to the Supreme Court. Before and after the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Heller, other cases were playing out across the country, with huge implications for the rights of citizens in those jurisdictions. When the situation demands, NRA-ILA goes beyond legislative and political advocacy to defend the Second Amendment in court.

One case began back in 2005, when voters in San Francisco passed Proposition H, a local ordinance prohibiting virtually all city residents from possessing handguns. The ordinance also prohibited all city residents, without exception, from selling, distributing, transferring and manufacturing all firearms and ammunition. The city mayor promoted the ordinance mainly as a political statement. He even acknowledged the likelihood that the handgun ban would not withstand legal scrutiny, but insisted on spending taxpayer funds on his political theatrics.

Once passed, the ordinance could not be allowed to stand. NRA-ILA assembled a strike team of lawyers, local gun owners and other affected groups (from the San Francisco Veteran Police Officers Association, to the Pink Pistols), and filed for a "writ of mandate" to challenge the ordinance the day after it passed. Among many arguments, one stood out as the single most critical--that the ordinance violated the state's preemption statute.

Preemption statutes have long been a legislative priority for NRA-ILA. They prohibit cities, counties and other localities from establishing their own restrictions on firearms ownership, use and possession. Preemption statutes prevent having a patchwork of assorted restrictions varying from one township line to the next, which in turn prevents lawful firearm owners from accidentally becoming criminals by violating obscure local gun laws.

Forty-three states have preemption statutes, and California is one of them. But California's law is not as clear as some others. That's why activist anti-gun groups have been pushing for local gun restrictions in California--and that's why this case was so important.

The trial court agreed with us, and found that Proposition h was, in fact, preempted by state law. City politicians were not content with only wasting a little time and money, so they appealed the decision, claiming the handgun ban was necessary as a crime-fighting measure. The state Court of Appeal not only affirmed the trial court decision, but noted that "[T]he City's arguments fail to acknowledge 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."

Apparently bent on further exhausting taxpayers' money and patience, the city asked the California Supreme Court to review the case. On April 9, the Supreme Court declined the request. It also refused the city's request to cut the anti-gun movement's losses by taking the Court of Appeal decision off the books. So now the decision is final, and it stands as binding precedent against future efforts to pass local bans and restrictions on firearm possession
in California.

Across the country in Philadelphia, a different political battle played out more recently. Here, city politicians had been pushing the state legislature to pass a series of onerous restrictions on firearm owners. The vast majority of state legislators declined the invitation, and the restrictions were voted down. Unwilling to accept defeat, city politicians decided to make a symbolic political statement by passing their
own set of gun bans and restrictions, Sound familiar?

Pennsylvania also has a preemption statute, one that is clear and already tested in the courts. In fact, the city's district attorney advised the city council and mayor that their restrictions were clearly unlawful. But that's where the story takes a twist. Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey--formerly the chief of police in Washington, D.C., and a vocal defender of the D.C.. gun ban--planned on enforcing them anyway. He was quoted as saying, "As far as I am concerned, the laws are valid, and we will act as if this whole conversation with the D.A. just didn';t take place."

So once again NRA-ILA assembled a team of lawyers, local groups and affected individuals, and sued the city in court. And we immediately succeeded in gaining a restraining order against enforcement of the ordinances. Now, Commissioner Ramsey will have to occupy himself looking for real criminals to arrest.

But the legal work of your NRA-ILA will not be finished with these cases, nor with whatever verdict the Supreme Court may render in District of Columbia v. Heller. Our rights will continue to be tested by headline-hungry politicians, and any time the Second Amendment is on trial, NRA-ILA will be there in its defense.

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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.