Supervisor's Report

The tipping point on gun violence

After tragedies like in Connecticut, gun sales rise Photo: mike seachang / flickr

Very few events in life, good or bad, have the power to unite entire communities. In San Francisco, we came together as a city in the aftermath of the Loma Prieta earthquake, and in much happier circumstances to celebrate our Giants’ World Series wins. No matter your gender, ethnicity, political affiliation, religious beliefs, or economic situation, we were all united in spirit as San Franciscans.

We experience similar events – positive and negative – that bring us together as a country. One of these transformational events happened on Dec. 14, 2012, and I’ve had a pit in my stomach ever since.

The events at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. were unfathomable – a community brought to its knees, families forever changed, and a world left wondering how the tragedy could have been avoided. My wife and I have hugged our three children tighter every day since, and we’ve let our children’s teachers know how much we value them. I just cannot imagine how the parents in Newtown are dealing with
their tragedy.

A national debate is underway regarding blame for the shootings: was it insufficient mental health resources or lack of effective gun control laws? I would suggest both played a role. Our federal and state elected officials have a responsibility to take immediate action on strengthening and improving our gun control laws. We cannot stand idly by as a nation and bear witness to this violence with our hands in our pockets.


We are fortunate to live in a state that has some of the toughest gun laws on the books. The Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence recently ranked California No. 1 out of all 50 states as having the strongest gun-violence prevention legislation. Statistically, California is among the 10 states with the lowest gun death rates. Among other things, California:

  • Requires all guns to be sold through a licensed dealer, requiring a background check;
  • Requires gun dealers to obtain a state license;
  • Regulates gun shows;
  • Bans most assault weapons and 50-caliber rifles, and prohibits the sale or transfer of large-capacity ammunition magazines;
  • Requires handgun purchasers to obtain a license after passing a written test;
  • Limits handgun purchases to one per person per month;
  • Prohibits the sale of “unsafe handguns” not on a roster of approved handguns;
  • Imposes a 10-day waiting period prior to the sale or transfer of a firearm;
  • Maintains permanent records of firearm sales;
  • Gives local law enforcement discretion to deny a license to carry a concealed weapon; and
  • Gives local governments authority to regulate firearms and ammunition, though the state legislature has expressly removed this authority in certain areas.

In San Francisco, we have attempted to take California’s state gun laws one step further, though with mixed legal success. Courts have consistently held that the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution grants authority only to the federal government and individual states to regulate gun control, and as frustrating as it is, local jurisdictions are constitutionally pre-empted from enacting their own gun control laws.

In 2005, San Francisco voters approved Proposition H, which sought to restrict handgun possession within city limits to police and certain security professionals. Prop. H also banned the manufacture, distribution, sale, and transfer of firearms and ammunition within city limits. Though Prop. H passed with 58 percent of the vote; I fully believe it would receive much broader support today after the events in Connecticut. However, citing the Second Amendement, Prop. H was struck down in Superior Court, and this decision was upheld by unanimous votes in the appeals court and California Supreme Court. As a result, San Francisco was required to pay approximately $380,000 in legal expenses for the plaintiffs.

The National Rifle Association is currently in court against San Francisco, challenging two laws on our books: one that requires firearms within a residence to be kept in a locked container or secured with a trigger lock, and another that prohibits the sale of ammunition that fragments or explodes upon impact.


The bottom line is that any hope for lasting, substantive gun control rests with our federal and state legislators. In 1994, Congress enacted a 10-year ban on assault weapons, which included a ban on ammunition magazines that held more than 10 rounds. That ban expired in 2004, and nothing has since filled the void.

We are fortunate that Senator Dianne Feinstein has been a vocal advocate of gun control laws. She appeared on Meet the Press on Dec. 16, stating her intention to introduce legislation on the first day of the new Congress in 2013 to ban assault weapons, as well as big clips, drums and strips of more than 10 bullets. Senator Feinstein gets it. I applaud her for taking
quick action.


Everyday, 34 Americans are murdered with guns in this country. During President Obama’s final four years in office, it is estimated that approximately 48,000 Americans will be killed with guns – roughly the number of those killed in the entire Vietnam War. Since the mass shooting in Tucson, Ariz. two years ago, which killed six people and seriously injured then-Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, 24,000 Americans have been murdered with guns. Absolutely nothing has changed.

I am familiar with both sides of the gun control debate, and understand there is a vast difference between living in a city such as San Francisco and living in the countryside in Montana. I have no issue with different state regulation of gun control laws, but our federal government should set the floor. There is no reason, for sport or otherwise, that anybody needs a military assault rifle in their home or clips with dozens of bullets.

On the night of the Connecticut shootings, I had the honor of meeting Gabby Giffords. Her personal story of recovery is nothing short of heroic, and despite her injuries, she is incredibly engaging. Our country is similarly resilient, but in an effort to focus on the future, we are often quick to put the past behind us. My hope is that our national leaders use the tragedy in Connecticut and national symbols such as Gabby Giffords as calls to action. It would be an even greater tragedy if we didn’t use these rare events, which have united our country, as catalysts for meaningful change.

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Mark Farrell is the District 2 supervisor and can be reached at 415-554-7752 or [email protected]