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A superior court judge suggested Thursday that a new law that strips San Franciscans of their handguns may have a “rationality” problem. But during oral arguments over a challenge to the law on Thursday, Judge James Warren didn’t seem to have settled on whether the ban should be wiped off the books, as a similar San Francisco law was more than 20 years ago. Proposition H, passed by voters last year, has been challenged by critics � including the National Rifle Association, a handful of gun owners and a number of groups, such as the San Francisco Veteran Police Officers Association � who argue the city is treading on the state’s territory. San Francisco’s lawyers counter that, as a charter city, it has latitude to make rules on local issues that might overlap with state regulations. At one point, Warren asked Deputy City Attorney Wayne Snodgrass about what Warren called the “rationality” problem: “If it is indeed the city’s intent to protect residents from handgun violence,” why does Prop H focus on residents without affecting people who come to the city from other places? “A more absolute prohibition might have gone even further in preventing gun violence,” Snodgrass allowed. But plenty of the city’s gun violence takes place in people’s homes, and cutting that down was one of the law’s goals, he said. Plus, the law’s proponents wanted to avoid running aground on a 1982 First District Court of Appeal opinion that shot down the city’s last handgun ban, Snodgrass said. There are essentially two parts to the new ban, which passed with 58 percent of the vote in November. Within city limits, residents would generally be barred from possessing handguns, and anyone would be prevented from selling, distributing, transferring or manufacturing any firearms or ammunition. A key point of contention in the case is whether the possession part of the ban constitutes a “municipal affair.” The city has argued that limiting the possession ban to residents keeps it within the “home rule power” of charter cities to regulate local affairs. If that’s the case, the city argues in briefs, the local law should be okay unless it interferes with a “genuine and weighty” statewide concern already directly addressed in state law. San Francisco contends that there’s no state policy favoring handgun possession, but the plaintiffs argue just the opposite. State laws that regulate licenses for owning and selling handguns add up to “statutory scheme,” they argue, which reflects a statewide concern � namely, to control firearms while allowing most civilians to keep guns. At the outset of Thursday’s hearing, Warren gave no indication of which side he favored. His long list of questions probed both sides equally and only occasionally pointedly. By the end, he had only openly dismissed one point, by the law’s critics, warning the plaintiff’s attorney, C.D. “Chuck” Michel, not to argue a super-literal interpretation of the new law. The suggestion that the proposition’s prohibition on gun transfers would stop cops from taking guns from criminals’ hands “makes no sense,” Warren said. “Reasonable meanings have to be given to commonly used words.” After an hour and a half of arguments, there was only one consensus in the courtroom � that regardless of Warren’s ruling on the writ petition, one side or the other will almost certainly appeal to the First District. The judge asked both sides to submit a proposed decision Thursday, and has 90 days to rule in Fiscal v. City and County of San Francisco, 505960.

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