Originally Published: November 15, 2005 4 a.m.
It's not easy to do, but gun control advocates in San Francisco have come up with an anti-firearms measure that embarrasses even some gun control advocates.
The red-faced ones may realize this one is not likely to work even if it stands up in court, which it almost certainly will not. But the pointlessness of the initiative didn't stop San Franciscans from approving it by a hefty majority.
Proposition H outlaws the sale, manufacture, transfer and ownership of handguns and ammunition in the city. Unlike other cities that enacted bans but allowed residents to keep weapons they already had, San Francisco included immediate confiscation in the deal: Anyone who now has a handgun must surrender it by April. The only people allowed to possess firearms will be police, soldiers and security guards.
So what's wrong with this plan? Just about everything. Start with the fact that it appears to conflict with the state constitution, which gives the state sole jurisdiction over firearms regulation a defect that doomed San Francisco's latest handgun ban, approved in 1982.
University of California at Berkeley law professor Franklin Zimring, a staunch supporter of gun control, says the new ordinance is a "sure loser" in court. Democratic U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who as mayor signed the 1982 law, saw no point in taking a position on this one because of its obviously fatal infirmity. Current Mayor Gavin Newsom admitted the initiative is "a public opinion poll."
Nor is there much point in city-by-city efforts against guns. Trying to ban handguns from one municipality in a nation awash in firearms is like trying to empty the water out of one section of the Pacific Ocean. The city has the means to close down gun shops within its boundaries, but any San Franciscan who wants to make a purchase is within an easy drive of other suppliers.
There is a simple term for citizens who abide by the law: law-abiding citizens. But law-abiding citizens, by definition, are not the kind to commit murder, if only because it happens to be illegal.
No, the sort of San Franciscans who commit murder are criminals. But people who are willing to flout the laws against murder will not meekly submit to laws against handgun possession. As Florida State University criminologist Gary Kleck notes, the law doesn't really change anything on handgun ownership by criminals: They are already barred from possessing firearms. It affects only non-criminals.
So bad guys will keep their handguns, and only good guys will give theirs up. That may be good for the bad guys, but it looks bad for the good guys.