Gun-rights activists up in arms
Berkeley lawmaker pushes local ban on handguns
By Josh Richman, STAFF WRITER
Article Launched: 04/08/2008 02:35:14 AM PDT
An East Bay lawmaker's bill to clear the way for local handgun bans has a committee hearing today, delving into issues now pending before the state and nation's highest courts.
Assemblywoman Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, authored Assembly Bill 2566 in reaction to a state Court of Appeal ruling in January which upheld the voiding of San Francisco's Measure H of 2005, approved by voters to bar city residents from owning handguns or from making or selling firearms or ammunition in the city.
The California Supreme Court is mulling whether to review this ruling, which found state law leaves no room for cities and counties to ban handgun ownership; Hancock's bill, to be heard today by the Assembly Public Safety Committee, seeks to create that room by removing the state pre-emption entirely.
Washington, D.C.'s handgun ban is now the subject of the biggest gun-rights case heard by the U.S. Supreme Court in almost 70 years. The high court will rule by late June on whether the Second Amendment protects an individual's right to gun ownership, rather than just a collective right to guns for the common defense as part of a state militia. Richmond activist Andres Soto said the Legal Community Against Violence — a San Francisco nonprofit that helped draft the bill — believes that case won't directly affect this bill because of Washington's status as a federal district, distinct from the states. Soto said he sees this as "a domestic disarmament" crucial to the
East Bay's gun-plagued communities.
Hancock said the bill is inspired by victims such as an Oakland boy hit by a stray bullet and paralyzed while at his piano lesson and a Richmond woman shot and killed in her doorway by a gang member.
Handguns are "weapons of mass destruction in some of our inner cities," she said, and local governments need this tool at their disposal to quell the violence.
"Many times when enough individual local governments take an action, state action follows and federal action follows," Hancock said. "It's the people on the ground experiencing the problem every day that tend to be innovative and want to push the envelope, and I've seen the communities I represent staggering under the burden of gun violence for too long."
Gun-rights activists disagree.
"Aside from the fact that, obviously, disarming civilians and depriving them of the most effective tool there is for self-defense or defending their families, its not a good policy decision," said California Rifle and Pistol Association attorney Chuck Michel of Long Beach.
"The law is confusing enough as it is right now," he said, with the California Law Revision Commission already studying the need to simplify and reorganize Penal Code sections dealing with deadly weapons; that panel's report is due by July 2009.
"The reason they passed pre-emption in the first place was so people wouldn't have to worry about violating a different set of laws every time they drove across a city line," Michel said. "Uniformity is very important."
Soto said that's "a red herring," as this bill wouldn't affect existing state laws on handgun transportation but rather would let cities bar residents from owning handguns.
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's office said Monday he has not yet taken a position on this bill.
Josh Richman can be reached at 510-208-6428 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his Political Blotter blog at http://www.ibabuzz.com/politics.