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San Francisco's handgun ban - part of anticrime push

By Leon LindsayStaff correspondent of The Christian Science Monitor / June 30, 1982



San Francisco

This city's stringent new law banning handguns is a noisy wave in the anticrime tide that has been running in California.

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With reluctant enforcement indicated by responsible officials and several legal challenges in the making, the ordinance prohibiting possession or sale of pistols in San Francisco may well be overturned by the courts or overridden by state ballot action before it has any noticeable effect.

That crime - particularly violent crime - is a major concern among Californians was made evident in the June 8 primary. A ''victims' bill of rights'' proposal, which critics said would deprive the accused of some of their rights, was overwhelmingly approved.

In the past two years the California legislature, obviously responding to constituent opinion, has enacted several tough anticrime laws.

In April, Gov. Edmund G. Brown Jr. signed two laws dealing with gun-packing criminals. One provides mandatory minimum prison terms for persons with prior convictions who are convicted of using a loaded gun when committing certain offenses; the other increased penalties for using firearms to assault policemen or firefighters.

The anticrime plank is one that no candidate for state office dare leave out of his platform.

Polls continue to show that - in California as in the nation as a whole - at least 60 percent of the people favor some form of gun control. But at the same time, people who have never before owned guns, especially frightened city dwellers, continue to acquire them.

Passed by a sharply divided San Francisco Board of Supervisors on a 6-to-4 vote late Monday night, the new law was immediately signed by its chief sponsor, Mayor Dianne Feinstein.

Long before that, the National Rifle Association (NRA) was preparing a suit charging that the antihandgun measure is superseded by a law reserving authority on licensing of guns to the state. State Sen. H. L. Richardson, a national officer in the NRA, is pushing the suit.

Local gun ban foes pointed out that six years ago Mayor Feinstein, then a city supervisor, acquired a gun permit after shots shattered windows in her home and a bomb was found nearby.

''I have not carried the gun for five years,'' she says. ''It's ancient history.''

''This is the first time that a major city has said 'enough' to death and dismemberment of our society by handgun,'' she declared.

The ordinance, effective in 30 days, makes it a misdemeanor to sell or possess a pistol in San Francisco. It provides a 90-day period in which residents may sell or otherwise dispose of their handguns. Critics point out that a gun sold to someone in Daly City or Oakland might be used an hour later to commit a crime in San Francisco.

District Attorney Arlo Smith made clear he will not even charge anyone with violating the new ban until its validity has been determined by the courts. And police officials have made clear they will enforce the law only in the course of their normal work; there will be no house-to-house searches for illegal handguns.

The San Francisco handgun law is similar to one enacted in February in Morton Grove, Ill.

Reports from that small Chicago suburb indicate that, while a majority of residents support the ban, only 12 of an estimated 3,100 handguns in the town have been turned in to the police.

Apparently moved to action by Mayor Feinstein's antipistol drive, other cummunities in the area have acted on bans.

The Berkeley City Council recently passed a handgun possession ban; Marin County voters approved gun registration in the June 8 election; and pistol-ban proposals are pending in Palo Alto and Sunnyvale.

A statewide initiative that would prohibit the sale of unregistered handguns in California after April 30, 1983, and require registration of all pistols by November 1983 will be on the Nov. 2 ballot.

Should that proposal be approved - and current polls indicate it will win handily - local laws such as the one just passed here would be superseded.