By James Poulos.
Continuing its reticence to reach beyond a landmark decision seven years ago, the Supreme Court handed a victory to tight regulations on gun use in San Francisco.
“The court on Monday let stand court rulings in favor of a city measure that requires handgun owners to secure weapons in their homes by storing them in a locker, keeping them on their bodies or applying trigger locks,” the Associated Press reported. “A second ordinance bans the sale of ammunition that expands on impact, has ‘no sporting purpose’ and is commonly referred to as hollow-point bullets.” The first ordinance passed in 2007; the second, in 1994.
The NRA and gun rights advocates had expected that the court’s 2008 decision in the District of Columbia v. Heller gave them a strong chance at overcoming the regulations. “Gun owners challenged both ordinances after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that the Constitution guarantees the right to possess guns at home for self-defense, then ruled in 2010 that state and local laws that substantially burdened that right were invalid,” observed the San Francisco Chronicle. “Gun groups are also relying on those rulings to challenge California’s licensing requirements for concealed weapons, and ordinances in San Francisco and Sunnyvale that ban the possession of high-capacity gun magazines.”
Failure on appeal
As Bloomberg reported, plaintiffs were convinced “that the San Francisco law was similar to the Washington, D.C., trigger-lock requirement invalidated in the high court’s 2008 decision.” But the 9th Circuit Court of Appeal ruled against them, teeing up a showdown at the Supreme Court. “The Ninth Circuit Court held that the city had a legitimate purpose in applying laws that reduce the danger of guns,” Al Jazeera America recounted, “and that while it did burden the rights of gun owners, it didn’t burden them so much they couldn’t exercise the rights to self-defense enshrined in the Second Amendment.”
“‘The record contains ample evidence that storing handguns in a locked container reduces the risk of both accidental and intentional handgun-related deaths, including suicide,’ Circuit Judge Sandra S. Ikuta wrote in the court’s opinion in March of last year.”
Among Supreme Court Justices, however, only Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas signaled their willingness to take the case.
“In a six-page dissent, Thomas, joined by Scalia wrote that the San Francisco gun laws are ‘in serious tension with Heller‘ and that the prior court rulings had ‘failed to protect’ the Second Amendment,” National Public Radio noted. “San Francisco’s law allows residents to use their handguns for the purpose of self-defense, but it prohibits them from keeping those handguns operable for the purpose of immediate self-defense when not carried on the person,” according to Justice Thomas.
Although some legal experts immediately noted that the court’s decision raised questions about just how much protection the Second Amendment now could afford, others noted the court’s recent decision to side with the NRA in a different case.
Just last month, the court drew acclaim from the NRA for its unanimous ruling that convicted felons could sell firearms confiscated by law enforcement.
“The decision came in response to a case involving former U.S. Border Patrol agent Tony Henderson,” Western Journalismreported, “whose 19 guns were confiscated by the FBI upon his arrest on drug charges.”
“Following his guilty plea, Henderson was a felon prohibited from possessing firearms; however, he did not want to simply lose the roughly $3,500 his gun collection was worth. He petitioned a lower court in an effort to allow a third party to take possession of the guns and attempt to sell them on his behalf. That effort was unsuccessful at every stage of appeal up to the Supreme Court level.”