California court strikes San Francisco handgun ban

SAN FRANCISCO Wed Jan 9, 2008 9:54pm EST

Recently seized handguns are displayed at Boston police headquarters in Boston, Massachusetts December 7, 2005. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

Recently seized handguns are displayed at Boston police headquarters in Boston, Massachusetts December 7, 2005.

Credit: Reuters/Brian Snyder

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SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A California state appeals court on Wednesday struck down a ban on the private ownership of handguns in San Francisco, one of several U.S. cities that have outlawed small firearms.

San Francisco voters passed their ban in 2005, barring all city residents from selling, distributing or manufacturing firearms or ammunition.

Like similar laws in Chicago and Washington, D.C., San Francisco's ban also prohibited residents from possessing handguns unless they are government employees or security guards.

Retired law enforcement and military personnel joined several firearms rights groups to challenge San Francisco's ban before it could be enforced.

On Wednesday, a three-judge panel of the California Court of Appeal upheld a district court decision, which found that the ordinance was pre-empted by several state laws, one of which prohibits cities from restricting handgun possession in an individual's home, business, or private property.

"These laws of statewide application reflect the legislature's balancing of interests -- on the one side the interest of the general public to be protected from the criminal misuse of firearms, on the other, the interests of law-abiding citizens to be able to purchase and use firearms," the panel wrote in its unanimous decision.

"When it comes to regulating firearms, local governments are well advised to tread lightly."

San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera said he was disappointed with the ruling and that the city would consider further appeal.

"We think that localities should have this ability to protect the health and safety of their residents," Herrera said.

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear a similar case this year, when attorneys from Washington will defend that city's 31-year-old law banning private possession of handguns.

Opponents say the Washington ban violates the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Legal experts say the Supreme Court's decision in the dispute could be the most important decision on gun rights in nearly 70 years and produce a decisive ruling on whether civilians have a right to keep firearms.

Representatives of the National Rifle Association, which has pressed both the Washington and San Francisco cases, said they were pleased with the California court's decision.

"This is at least another step in the right direction," said the NRA's chief lobbyist, Chris Cox. "When one city, in this case San Francisco, seeks to defy state law and restrict the rights of law abiding residents, the NRA has and will continue to stand up and fight on their behalf."

(Editing by Braden Reddall and Mohammad Zargham)

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