State high court shoots down S.F. handgun ban
Bob Egelko, Chronicle Staff Writer
Thursday, April 10, 2008
(04-09) 17:19 PDT SAN FRANCISCO -- The state Supreme Court dealt a final blow Wednesday to San Francisco's voter-approved ban on handguns, rejecting the city's appeal of a lower-court ruling that sharply limited the ability of localities to regulate firearms.
The court's unanimous order was a victory for the National Rifle Association, which sued on behalf of gun owners, advocates and dealers a day after the measure passed with 58 percent of the vote in November 2005. The initiative has never taken effect.
The ordinance, Proposition H, would have forbidden San Francisco residents to possess handguns, exempting only law enforcement officers and others who needed guns for professional purposes. It would have also prohibited the manufacture, sale or distribution of any type of firearms or ammunition in San Francisco.
Lower courts ruled that the measure interfered with a statewide system of gun regulation, which bars certain types of weapons and allows others. The rulings did not address the scope of the constitutional right to bear arms under the Second Amendment, the focus of a pending U.S. Supreme Court case involving a handgun ban in Washington, D.C.
The state courts recognized that "law-abiding citizens are part of the solution, not part of the problem of violent crime," said Chuck Michel, lawyer for the plaintiffs in the NRA suit. "The authority of local cities to over-regulate firearms is very limited."
Alexis Thompson, spokeswoman for City Attorney Dennis Herrera, said the court's action was disappointing.
"As violence continues to be a pervasive problem in our city, we hope that we can explore other ways to abate the prevalence of handguns on our streets," she said.
In seeking state Supreme Court review, Herrera's office urged the justices to declare that "local governments retain significant, meaningful ... power to protect their residents against gun violence."
The city's lawyers said the use of guns in San Francisco homicides is rising, accounting for 61 percent of all killings in 2001 and 83 percent in 2005, and is particularly high in poor and minority neighborhoods. Gun violence costs San Francisco at least $31.2 million a year for hospital care, police and fire response and jail expenses, the city said.
But the courts said the ordinance was beyond the powers of local government.
Upholding a judge's June 2006 ruling, the First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco said state law left room for some municipal gun control - such as bans on the sale or possession of firearms on public fairgrounds - but "when it comes to regulating firearms, local governments are well advised to tread lightly."
The court relied on its own 1982 ruling striking down a San Francisco ordinance that would have prohibited handgun possession by anyone in the city limits. Prop. H drafters sought to comply with the ruling by limiting the ban to city residents.
In a 3-0 ruling Jan. 9, the appeals court said state law allows law-abiding Californians to possess handguns in their homes and businesses and lets them request a concealed-weapons permit or a judge's permission to carry guns in public - authority that leaves no room for a local handgun ban.
The court also said a 1999 state law banning the sale of the cheap pistols known as Saturday night specials, and setting safety standards for legal firearms, implicitly prohibited local governments from outlawing all handguns.
The appeals judges also refused San Francisco's request to allow enforcement of Prop. H's ban on the manufacture or sale of rifles and shotguns, saying the city must first rewrite the measure to narrow its scope.
The case is San Francisco vs. Fiscal, S160968