Ken Garcia: Quixotic pursuit of handgun ban reflects City Hall fantasy land

Let the record show that I agree with a majority of San Franciscans that handguns are very, very dangerous, especially in the hands of very, very bad people.

Let the record also show that I support stringent gun control laws and believe that Congress has been neglectful in dealing with the clear and present danger posed by gun fanatics and their powerful lobbies.

Let the record further show that Supervisor Chris Daly deserves credit for trying to make a bold statement by getting a city measure approved last year seeking to outlaw the possession of handguns in San Francisco — even if it were a largely symbolic gesture well beyond the scope of The City’s jurisdiction.

And let the record reflect that it was clearly only a matter of time before the measure was shot down by the courts since, as special as San Francisco is, it still lacks the ability to pass laws where the stateand federal government have clear authority.

Lastly, let the record show that City Attorney Dennis Herrera is a very fine politician who happens to be giving himself and his constituents some very poor legal advice.

For those too bleary-eyed from the frenetic World Cup schedule to keep up with the news, this week a San Francisco Superior Court Judge struck down The City’s voter-approved ban on handguns, saying that local governments cannot pass laws that are regulated by the state. The lawsuit challenging the local measure was filed by the ever-active National Rifle Association, which filed suit shortly after 58 percent of The City’s voters approved the ban in November.

Judge James Warren’s ruling should come as a surprise to no one who follows standard legal procedures, since state law, which oversees police agencies that handle handgun permits, clearly supersedes the power of local governments to enact handgun possession laws. California, Warren wrote, “has an overarching concern in controlling gun use by defining the circumstances under which firearms can be possessed uniformly across the state, without having this statewide scheme contradicted or subverted by local policy.”

Indeed, the only surprise in the case so far is that Herrera and his deputies decided on Tuesday to pursue a costly appeal that has about as much chance of winning as the aforementioned Daly has of one day becoming mayor of San Francisco. Yet since Daly and his ideological brethren on the board essentially serve as Herrera’s boss — and since they are soon to approve a budget full of all sorts of new hires for the City Attorney’s Office — you can see why Herrera decided to press forth, regardless of the futility of that pursuit.

Herrera protested mightily when I asked him why he would waste taxpayer money in this long shot quest. It’s one thing for a city to symbolically declare itself a nuclear-free zone, and quite another to try to set nuclear policy. And a precedent exists in this case — a previous San Francisco ordinance banning handgun possession was rejected by a state appeals court in 1982.

But Herrera, brimming with his own political ambitions, said he was casting himself upon the judicial rocks on behalf of all those voters who dared take a stand for utopian seekers everywhere.

“We think it’s an issue of home rule authority,’’ he said. “We respectfully disagree with the judge’s ruling and it’s our job to defend the will of the voters.’’

Herrera compared his decision to The City’s defense of Care Not Cash, San Francisco’s homeless reform act that changed the form of general assistance payouts. That measure lost at the trial court level, but The City appealed and won at the appellate level. But in that case the lawsuit concerned a very specific change to San Francisco’s homeless services, as opposed to a broad measure in which the courts have consistently found that local jurisdiction is preempted by state law.

So it is clearly a political decision meant to placate those who want to make the world, or at least the boundaries of San Francisco, a better, safer place. Not unlike the decision to test the state’s jurisdiction over same-sex marriage, or any other issue near and dear to the heart of San Francisco’s rainbow coalition.

There were winks and nods all over City Hall this week about Herrera’s big, valorous stance. The ever-judicious Daly all but demanded that Herrera challenge Warren’s ruling, suggesting in his inimitable way that he was looking forward to Warren’s retirement.

It’s that kind of wishful thinking that passes for public policy in San Francisco these days, just like the empty, symbolic measures that crowd the ballot box each year. The City may exist in a separate reality, but the laws still don’t bend for its benefit.

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