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House members reintroduce background-check bill

A bipiartisan group of House members led by the Bay Area’s Mike Thompson and Pete King, R-N.Y., has re-introduced a bill that would require background checks for all firearm purchases, including those at gun shows, over the internet or in classified ads.

But with Republicans in control of the House and Senate, the bill seems doomed from the get-go – especially given that it went nowhere in the last Congress.

H.R. 1217, the Public Safety and Second Amendment Rights Protection Act of 2015, would provide exceptions for family and friend transfers. Its original co-authors are Mike Fitzpatrick, R-Pa.; Pat Meehan, R-Pa.; Bob Dold, R-Ill.; Bennie Thompson, D-Miss.; Elizabeth Esty, D-Conn.; and Kathleen Rice, D-N.Y.

Mike Thompson“This anti-criminal, pro-Second Amendment bill will help keep spouses, kids and communities safe by preventing dangerous people from getting guns,” Thompson, D-St. Helena, said in a news release. “Background checks are the first line of defense in our efforts to keep guns from criminals, domestic abusers and the dangerously mentally ill, and Congress should fortify that first line of defense by passing our bipartisan bill to close the system’s loopholes.”

King noted the bill also would improve state and federal record-keeping to strengthen the background-check database, and would create a commission to examine mass-violence incidents.

“When background checks are used, they keep guns out of the hands of people we all agree shouldn’t have guns,” he said. “It is estimated that four out of 10 gun buyers do not go through a background check when purchasing a firearm – meaning those with criminal records can easily bypass the system. As government officials it is our responsibility to protect our citizens, and when it comes to gun violence we must do more.”

The bill’s authors say studies show that every day where background checks are used, the system stops more than 170 felons, some 50 domestic abusers, and nearly 20 fugitives from buying a gun. But in much of the nation, no system is in place to prevent these same prohibited purchasers from buying identical guns at a gun show, over the internet, or through a newspaper ad with no questions asked.

But the bill also bans the government from creating a federal registry and makes the misuse of records a felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison. It also provides exceptions for firearms transfers between family members, friends and hunting buddies; lets active military personnel buy guns in the state in which they are stationed; and allows interstate handgun sales from licensed dealers.

If this sounds familiar, that’s because it’s identical to the bill Thompson and King authored introduced in 2013 – but though it had 188 co-sponsors, H.R. 1565 was never even heard in committee. It’s also the same as the Manchin-Toomey amendment that failed in the Senate in April 2013.

The National Rifle Association opposes expanding background checks, claiming they won’t stop criminals from getting firearms by theft or via the black market.

But Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said this should be “a no-brainer.”

Ninety-two percent of the American public supports this measure to keep guns out of the hands of people like domestic abusers, rapists, and fugitives,” Gross said. “More importantly, it will save lives. We need to let our representatives know that we will not tolerate them putting the interests of the corporate gun lobby ahead of the lives and safety of the citizens they have been elected to represent.”

This new bill has been referred to the House Judiciary and Veterans’ Affairs committees; don’t hold your breath waiting for a hearing date

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Gun-rights backers decry Leland Yee’s hypocrisy

Gun-rights advocates are up in arms about state Sen. Leland Yee’s alleged double life – an ardent gun-control advocate in public, while secretly negotiating with purported mobsters to set up international gun deals.

“It appears that Leland Yee is not only an epic gun-control hypocrite, but also exactly the type of truly dangerous gun trafficking criminal who my clients have always urged authorities to throw the book at,” Chuck Michel, West Coast counsel for the National Rifle Association, said Thursday.

Leland YeeYee, D-San Francisco, famously has carried “bullet button” legislation, which would ban a common modification to semi-automatic rifles that lets users quickly swap out their ammunition magazines without running afoul of the state’s assault weapons law. His SB 47 was pulled from consideration last August, a few weeks before the end of the legislative session, but remains pending in the Assembly.

That bill was among eight that made up state Senate Democrats “LIFE Act” gun-control package last year.

“The prevalence of deadly, military-style weapons in our society has resulted in countless tragedies,” Yee said last April. “It is past time to put some common sense laws into place in order to prevent such tragedies in the future. The LIFE Act is a bold step forward in this effort.”

Yee is charged with conspiracy to traffic in firearms without a license and to illegally import firearms, and six counts of scheming to defraud citizens of “honest services.” Each corruption count is punishable by up to 20 years in federal prison and a fine of up to $250,000, while the gun-trafficking count is punishable by up to five years and $250,000. Free on $500,000 bond, Yee is scheduled to return to court Monday.

An FBI affidavit says Yee told an undercover FBI agent he could facilitate big shipments of guns into the country in exchange for campaign contributions. No guns actually changed hands, but Yee accepted a $5,000 contribution from a bogus company set up by the agent as their negotiations continued in a series of face-to-face meetings from January through March 14. At one such meeting, Yee allegedly discussed specific locations in the Philippines and Florida that might be ideal for moving the guns, which he said would include M-16-type automatic rifles.

Consider what Yee said last October when Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill that would’ve classified all semi-automatic rifles with detachable magazines as banned assault weapons.

“California’s Assault Weapons Ban has protected the public for decades,” Yee said at the time. “But we must work to make sure that it is capable of dealing with new threats that face California. In the Governor’s veto message, he spoke of the importance of our gun laws and the need to make sure they are carefully tailored. SB 47 will protect the public while keeping an appropriately narrow scope.”

Lots more, after the jump…
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9th Circuit refuses to block SF gun controls

The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld a lower court’s refusal to block San Francisco’s requirement that handguns be locked up when they’re not being carried, and the city’s ban on sale of hollow-point ammunition.

hollow-point ammoThe National Rifle Association, an organization of former police officers and several individuals sued in 2009. A federal judge in 2012 refused to issue a preliminary injunction blocking the rules’ enforcement; a three-judge panel of the appeals court affirmed that ruling Tuesday.

The plantiffs had argued that there are times – such as when sleeping or bathing – that carrying a handgun is impractical, yet having to retrieve the weapon from a locked box or trigger lock could impair their right to self-defense. San Francisco argued that firearm injuries are the third-leading cause of death in the city, and having unlocked firearms in the home increases risk of gun-related injury, especially to children.

“San Francisco has drawn a reasonable inference that mandating that guns be kept locked when not being carried will increase public safety and reduce firearm casualties,” Circuit Judge Sandra Ikuta wrote.

And the hollow-point ammo ban “does not prevent the use of handguns or other weapons in self-defense,” the judge wrote. “The regulation in this case limits only the manner in which a person may exercise Second Amendment rights by making it more difficult to purchase certain types of ammunition.”

San Francisco’s evidence more than “fairly supports” its conclusion that hollow-point bullets are more lethal than other types of ammunition, Ikuta wrote.

The court recognizes the significance of the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms, “but we also recognize that the Second Amendment right, like the First Amendment right to freedom of speech, may be subjected to governmental restrictions which survive the appropriate level of scrutiny,” she wrote. “Because San Francisco’s regulations do not destroy the Second Amendment right, and survive intermediate scrutiny, the district court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that Jackson would not succeed on the merits of her claims.”

Chuck Michel, the NRA’s West Coast counsel, issued a statement saying there’s “confusion and inconsistency” about what legal standards to use when evaluating Second Amendment challenges.

“This case provides a perfect vehicle for these important issues to be resolved, either by the Ninth Circuit en banc or by the Supreme Court, and we will seek review immediately,” Michel said. “We are hopeful that the Supreme Court will clarify that it meant what it said in its decisions from 2008 and 2010 — that the Second Amendment is not a second class constitutional right.”

The NRA more recently has sued to block enforcement of San Francisco’s new ban on possession of ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds. A federal judge in February refused to issue a preliminary injunction blocking the ordinance’s enforcement, so it’s scheduled to take effect April 7.

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SCOTUS won’t stay Sunnyvale ammo magazine ban

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy has rejected the National Rifle Association’s request for an emergency stay blocking enforcement of Sunnyvale’s new ban on possession of ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds, according to SCOTUSblog’s Lyle Denniston.

The NRA had sought the stay Monday after the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and a federal trial-court judge in San Jose refused the request as well. Kennedy had ordered Sunnyvale to respond by 3 p.m. Eastern today, and issued his brief order without explanation – not yet available online – at about 4:10 p.m.

The NRA represents six Sunnyvale residents who claim the new ordinance, enacted by 67 percent of the city’s voters last November as Measure C, infringes upon their constitutional rights. The ordinance took effect Dec. 6, giving residents 90 days to either sell their magazines to a federally licensed dealer, store them outside the city, or turn them in to police for destruction. As of late last week, nobody had turned in their magazines, the city reported.

UPDATE @ 3:48 P.M.: Click here for a more complete story, including comment from the NRA’s Chuck Michel.

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Judge refuses to stop SF’s ammo magazine ban

A federal judge on Wednesday refused to issue a preliminary injunction blocking San Francisco’s new ban on possession of ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds, and so the law will take effect as planned on April 7.

The state’s assault weapon ban has forbidden such magazines’ manufacture, sale or transfer since 2000, but let people who owned them before then keep them. San Francisco supervisors on Oct. 29 unanimously approved a ban that will require owners to get rid of them – turn them over to police, remove them from the city, or transfer them to a licensed firearms dealer – within 90 days, no matter when they were bought.

30-round magazineThe San Francisco Veteran Police Officers Association, backed and represented by the National Rifle Association, sued in November to prevent the new law from taking effect. But U.S. District Judge William Alsup issued a 12-page ruling Wednesday that concluded immediate enforcement is in the public interest.

“In assessing the balance of equities, those rare occasions must be weighed against the more frequent and documented occasions when a mass murderer with a gun holding eleven or more rounds empties the magazine and slaughters innocents,” Alsup wrote. “One critical difference is that whereas the civilian defender rarely will exhaust the up-to-ten magazine, the mass murderer has every intention of firing every round possible and will exhaust the largest magazine available to him. On balance, more innocent lives will be saved by limiting the capacity of magazines than by allowing the previous regime of no limitation to continue.”

The judge also noted that 86 percent of mass shootings in the past 30 years involved at least one magazine that could hold more than 10 rounds, and more people are injured and killed per mass shooting with such magazines than without. “San Francisco’s interest in preventing another Sandy Hook tragedy constitutes a ‘critical public interest.’”

A spokesman for Chuck Michel, the NRA’s West Coast counsel, said the plaintiffs will appeal Alsup’s ruling.

City Attorney Dennis Herrera issued a statement applauding the decision.

“The U.S. Supreme Court has been very clear that state and local governments are constitutionally entitled to enact reasonable firearms regulations, and that Second Amendment rights aren’t unlimited,” he said. “Unfortunately, the NRA is pushing a radical litigation strategy that goes far beyond what’s reasonable. I’m grateful to the district court for drawing that distinction in persuasive terms.”

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NRA sues San Francisco over ammo magazine ban

The San Francisco Veteran Police Officers Association, represented by the National Rifle Association, sued San Francisco in federal court Tuesday over the city’s recently enacted ban on possession of ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds.

“Prohibiting the citizens of San Francisco from possessing standard firearm magazines is not an effective means of targeting behavior by violent criminals. The San Francisco Veteran Police Officers Association is challenging this law for that very reason,” said Chuck Michel, the NRA’s West Coast counsel. “This is a misguided effort to dismiss the civil rights of the residents of San Francisco. The Second Amendment forbids the city from banning common firearm magazines that are possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes.”

San Francisco supervisors on Oct. 29 unanimously approved a ban on possession of ammunition magazines that hold more than 10 rounds. The state’s assault weapon ban has forbidden their manufacture, sale or transfer since 2000, but let people who owned them before then keep them; the city’s possession ban will require owners to get rid of them – turn them over to police, remove them from the city, or transfer them to a licensed firearms dealer – within 90 days, no matter when they were bought.

The ordinance is set to take effect Dec. 8, unless a judge issues an injunction halting that.

The lawsuit filed Tuesday notes that magazines that are in common use for lawful purposes are protected by the Second Amendment, and magazines that hold more than 10 rounds have been around since the 19th century and some standard with many modern firearms.

“Self-defense is the ‘central component’ of the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms that is at its zenith within the home,” the lawsuit argues. “Millions of individual, law-abiding American citizens are currently in possession of standard-capacity magazines that are capable of holding more than ten rounds, that are now banned by Section 619.”

“Plaintiffs should not have to face criminal prosecution by the City for exercising their constitutional rights to keep and bear constitutionally-protected arms or, alternatively, give up those rights in order to comply with Section 619,” the lawsuit says.

Besides the organization for retired cops, other plaintiffs include several individual San Francisco residents who want to own higher-capacity magazines for self-defense or sporting purposes.

Sunnyvale voters this month approved Measure C, which requires gun owners to notify police within 48 hours of the loss or theft of their firearms, and to keep firearms locked up when not in the owner’s immediate possession. It also requires ammunition sellers to keep buyers’ names for two years, and includes a magazine possession ban similar to San Francisco’s. The NRA has vowed to sue that city, too.

UPDATE @ 12:58 P.M.: This just in from San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera:

“The NRA is continuing its attack on common sense with its lawsuit today, and San Francisco is prepared to litigate aggressively to defend gun safety laws that save lives.

“The NRA is clearly focused on a litigation strategy to push its extremist agenda. But the U.S. Supreme Court—even in expanding the Second Amendment’s scope—has been unequivocal that state and local governments are constitutionally entitled to enact reasonable firearms regulations. The high court has explicitly recognized that the constitution does not extend an unfettered individual right to keep and carry dangerous and unusual weapons. I have faith that the federal judiciary will agree that San Francisco’s gun laws protect public safety in a manner that’s both reasonable and constitutional. San Francisco has been one of the NRA’s top targets for years, and I’m proud of the success we’ve made to protect our sensible gun safety laws.”