- The Washington Times - Saturday, January 7, 2006

Odd how the Special City of San Francisco, which prides itself on tolerance and chants incessantly about choice, can be so, well, intolerant. Witness the November election in which 58 percent of city voters elected to ban the sale of firearms in the city and outlaw handgun ownership for citizens. It takes a special city to make the National Rifle Association look like the good guys.

I don’t want to sound glib, because the rash of violence that has scarred the city — and produced 96 homicides last year — no doubt contributed to passage of the gun-ban measure, Proposition H.

In a brief supporting the measure, which the NRA is fighting in the courts, San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera cited the tragic deaths of three innocent San Franciscans, including Deanne Bradford, a mother of six who was shot dead by her husband with a “legally owned handgun.” The husband also killed himself.

Mr. Herrera also argued city voters have a right to establish city gun laws and the “decision to forgo handgun possession by city residents is of no significant concern to anyone outside San Francisco, and is a proper exercise of the city’s home-rule power.” The handgun ban exempts police, military and security personnel.

I have a lot of sympathy with the home-rule argument, but it won’t fly here. For one thing: Even supporters of the handgun ban expect it to fail in court. “It clearly will be thrown out,” Mayor Gavin Newsom told the San Francisco Chronicle before the election. He added he would vote for the measure, but: “I’m having a difficult time with it, and that’s my one caveat…. It’s really a public-opinion poll, at the end of the day.”

For another, the law interferes with an individual’s right to self-defense, which is especially bad for people who live not in gated communities, but high-crime areas.

The third issue: While City Hall hasn’t set what the sentence for violations of the law, whatever it is, the handgun ban likely will hurt law-abiding citizens more than criminals.

As if this city needs proof criminals don’t care about gun laws, consider the AK-47 used to kill Officer Isaac Espinoza in 2004. At the time, the AK-47 was illegal under the federal assault-weapon ban, yet was the “gun of choice” for gang-bangers. It’s not as if they had no access to legal guns. Still the ban meant nothing to them.

The NRA’s Chris W. Cox argued Proposition H stands to “send a very clear message to the criminal element in San Francisco, that lawful residents in San Francisco are unarmed and unable to protect themselves from criminal attack.” (I should note residents will be able to keep an existing rifle in their homes, even if the entire law is upheld. That said, the law requires residents to surrender their handguns to police by April 1 and provides no compensation.)

Here’s an interesting statistic, compiled by the San Francisco Police Department and reported in the Chronicle last month: Of 94 homicides recorded in the city through Dec. 12, there have been no arrests in 74 cases. Only eight resulted in prosecutions.

Sorry, but if gang members think they can kill without getting caught, I don’t think a handgun ban will crimp their style.

Police say witnesses often are reluctant to testify. This suggests it would make more sense to put the resources used to defend Proposition H — which by the mayor’s own admission is a very expensive public-opinion poll — into witness protection and investigative programs.

San Francisco is supposed to stand for choice. This is supposed to be a town where tolerant individuals don’t pass laws that, in essence, say: If I don’t do it, you shouldn’t, either; if you do, you go to jail. Yet the gun ban ends choice — for the law-abiding, at least.

“Go by Bayview Police Station,” one San Francisco cop e-mailed me, “and look at the wall with all the gun photos. Not one of them was owned legally. No self-respecting gangster is going to abide by this new law, if they won’t abide by the old ones.”

Debra J. Saunders writes for the San Francisco Chronicle and is a nationally syndicated columnist.

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