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San Francisco Gun Ban Draws Legal Challenge

NRA is in court within hours of county voters' overwhelming approval of the measure. Orange County rejects initiative pushed by firefighters.

November 10, 2005|Lee Romney | Times Staff Writer

SAN FRANCISCO — A countywide ban on handguns here that would be the nation's toughest met with a swift legal challenge Wednesday from the National Rifle Assn. and a group of local residents, just hours after voters overwhelmingly passed it into law.

The measure -- which gives gun owners until April 1 to turn in their weapons and also makes it illegal to buy, sell, distribute and manufacture firearms in San Francisco -- was among the more controversial on ballots in California.

Across the state, voters considered a variety of measures, including one approved in Salinas that will bail out the struggling library system in the hometown of Nobel laureate John Steinbeck.

In San Francisco, the handgun measure passed with 58% of the vote. It came in response to a soaring homicide rate over the past two years.

Proponents said they hoped surrounding counties would follow suit if the San Francisco ban withstands the legal challenge. A similar ban exists in Washington, D.C., and a milder one in Chicago.

"It's not going to solve the entire problem, but if you're able to remove some of the handguns out of circulation ... you can really reduce the mortality rate," said San Francisco Supervisor Chris Daly.

Opponents were already striking back: Mike Ege, a spokesman for the San Francisco Coalition Against Prohibition, called the ban unenforceable "without violating people's 4th Amendment rights" against search and seizures.

The San Francisco Police Officers Assn. had also opposed the measure, saying it "would nullify the personal choice of city residents to lawfully possess a handgun for self-defense purposes."

The legal challenge, filed with the Court of Appeal in a quest for immediate action, contends the ban violates, and is preempted by, various state laws that govern the regulation of guns and ammunition. NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre said guns would remain in the hands of criminals while law-abiding citizens would lose the right of self-protection.

"This is all about someone's glass shattering in the middle of the night when they're home alone," he said. "You should never take away the choice of a person to protect themselves in that situation."

A similar San Francisco ban was defeated in court in 1982, but Daly said the new ban is worded differently to survive a legal challenge.

An employee of the only remaining gun and ammunition retailer in San Francisco said the store's future was unclear. Business was booming there Wednesday.

Elsewhere in the state:

* Orange County voters soundly defeated an initiative backed by firefighters that would have given them a slice of state sales tax money that now goes to the Sheriff's Department and the district attorney's office.

* Voters in Livermore rejected a measure that would have expanded the city's boundaries and added 2,450 new homes. A housing developer reportedly spent more than $3 million to promote the measure.

* Sonoma County voters defeated a proposed ban on planting or growing genetically altered crops.

* Redlands voters rejected a measure that would have returned a cross to the city seal. The cross was removed last year after the American Civil Liberties Union threatened legal action against the city.


Times staff writers Susannah Rosenblatt, Jean O. Pasco and Jocelyn Y. Stewart contributed to this report.

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