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Supreme Court Declines Review In Case Involving San Francisco Handgun Law

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The Supreme Court declined to accept an appeal today in a case arising out of a challenge to San Francisco’s law requiring that handguns be kept locked up, or with a trigger lock installed:

WASHINGTON—The Supreme Court Monday let stand a San Francisco gun-control ordinance, turning down a chance to expand the right to keep handguns at home for self-defense.

Six San Francisco residents had challenged the city’s ordinance requiring handguns be kept in a locked box or disabled with a trigger lock, contending the law violated their rights and was at odds with 2008 and 2010 landmark gun rights rulings. Federal courts in California have declined to strike down San Francisco’s law.

In 2008, the Supreme Court in District of Columbia v. Heller voided a Washington, D. C., ordinance that also had required handguns kept at home be stored under lock and key, among other restrictions.

San Francisco in court briefs said “handguns stored in modern lockboxes can quickly and easily be retrieved in the event of a self-defense emergency.” The city argued the ordinance reduced the risks of suicide, unintentional shootings and gun thefts.

Justice Clarence Thomas, joined by Justice Antonin Scalia, filed a dissent saying the court should have taken the case.

As Lyle Denniston notes, this is the latest in a series of denied appeals from the Justices in Second Amendment cases and it raises real questions about just how far the rulings in District of Columbia v. Heller and McDonald v. Heller are going to reach:

Raising significant new questions about how much protection the Constitution’s Second Amendment actually gives to gun owners, the Supreme Court on Monday left intact a local ordinance that restricts access to guns even within one’s own home.   The denial of review drew a fervent dissent from two Justices, who argued that the Court is narrowing the amendment’s “right to keep and bear arms.”

The Court acted on the gun case while granting review of three more cases for decisions in its next Term, including a new test case of major significance on the right of a group of individuals to band together to file a joint lawsuit seeking a common remedy — “class actions” for consumers and workers and “collective actions” for workers.

The refusal to review the case of Jackson v. City and County of San Francisco was the latest in a string of such orders, declining to clarify the personal right to have a gun, first established seven years ago and extended nationwide five years ago, but not explained further in the years since.  Once again, as is its custom, the Court did not explain why it was choosing to remain on the sidelines.

In the 2008 decision in District of Columbia v. Heller, the Court had ruled that the right created by the Second Amendment included a right to have a gun for one’s own use in self-defense, at least within the home, and with such a weapon in a condition allowing it to be quickly used.  That is the right that the Court said applied all across the country, in the 2010 decision in McDonald v. City of Chicago.   But McDonald marked the last time the Court had spoken on the amendment’ s reach.

Much of the uncertainty that has spread to courts across the country has involved the core question whether the personal right extends anywhere beyond the home.  That has been the issue that the Justices have most often declined to sort out.  The San Francisco case, however, sought to bring the Court back inside the home, to determine how far government could go to regulate access to a weapon there.

Under the city-county ordinance at issue, a handgun in the home could be carried on the body of the person, but otherwise had to be stored in a locked container or else disabled with a trigger lock.  The right to carry a handgun within the home was restricted to those over the age of eighteen.

Lower federal courts had upheld those restrictions, despite gun-owners’ claims that the ordinance directly contradicted the access that the Court supposedly had assured in the Heller decision.  The main rationale for upholding the ordinance was the need to prevent gun-related accidents within the home.

The Second Amendment has been the subject of much litigation in the lower Federal Courts around the country since Heller and McDonald were handed down, including decisions in Chicago striking down a law that heavily regulated gun sales, a pair of decisions related to the District of Columbia’s concealed carry laws, and a Ninth Circuit decision that struck down California’s concealed carry law. The Supreme Court, however, has been relatively quiet in this area and has not accepted a single Second Amendment case for review since McDonald was issued five years ago. In that time, though, the Court has declined to accept appeals in several cases where lower courts had upheld restrictive gun laws, including its 2013 decision to decline an appeal in a case involving New York State’s laws regarding carrying guns in public and a 2014 decision to decline an appeal of a similarly restrictive New Jersey law regarding carrying concealed weapons.

To some extent, it has seemed as though the Court’s decision to hold back on accepting appeals in cases involving concealed carry laws may be motivated in no small part by a desire to let the Circuit Courts of Appeal hash out the issue a little more before weighing in with a ruling that would apply nationwide. Given the fact that these laws tend to vary from state to state, with some states being far more restrictive than others regarding the ability to carry concealed weapons and some states even allowing open carry of weapons in at least some public spaces, this explanation made sense, but today’s development does require some reevaluation of that interpretation and raises questions about just where Heller and McDonald stand at this point even though the ideological balance on the Court has not shifted significantly in the time since those decisions were handed down.

If there was any recent case that one would have expected the Justices to accept for review, it would have been this case involving San Francisco’s law. Rather than dealing with concealed carry or any other issues that the Court has yet to weigh in on, the law seems to go straight to the heart of the holdings in Heller and McDonald in the way that it seeks to regulate the use of firearms inside one’s home. The ability to be able to defend oneself at home was at the core of the Heller decision, after all, and the Plaintiffs in this case presented a fairly persuasive argument that the San Francisco law’s requirement that a weapon be locked away even in the house unless it was being worn on the person of the owner substantially impairs the rights that Heller was seeking to protect because it impedes the ability of homeowner to defend themselves in a situation where unlocking a safe or a trigger lock would arguably take longer than necessary in an emergency. The other question, of course, is exactly how San Francisco purports to enforce this law since there is clearly no authority for law enforcement to demand entry to a home at random period of times just to see if someone is complying with this law. Declining to accept this appeal would seem to suggest that there is a majority on the Court that views Heller and McDonald rather narrowly.

Justice Thomas’s and Scalia took the uncommon step of filing a dissent to the denial of the certiorari, which raises many of the issues I discuss above, but what this tells us is that there were likely only two votes in favor of accepting this case for review. While this is not as big a setback for the gun rights movement as if the Court had accepted the appeal and upheld the law, it is yet another piece of evidence in favor of the idea that the Supreme Court is going to let the lower courts continue to deal with these issues on a case-by-case basis and that the hopes of some and fears of others that Heller and McDonald would lead to a world where most gun control laws were struck down will not come to pass.

Here is the Thomas/Scalia dissent:

Jackson v. S.F. – Scalia Thomas Dissent by Doug Mataconis

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. grumpy realist says:

    Doug–although the police aren’t going to do spot checks, it would seem to me that if you have the proverbial case of a toddler getting hold of a loaded gun and shooting someone, you have a pretty good case of res ipse loquitur.

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  2. Tyrell says:

    I would assume this law is basically to protect young children. It can also provide a brief cooling off period if there is some argument going on, and provides safety in case of a burglar getting hold of it. I don’t see a big problem or huge inconvenience to the owner. But don’t guns already have a safety ?
    I have a 1917 Polish army rifle, something like a Mauser. It sits out in the garage; no firing pin. I also do not have any ammunition for it. I would not even know where to find any or what size it would take.

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  3. C. Clavin says:

    @Tyrell:
    Actually…60% +/- of gun deaths are suicides.
    Every life is precious…but not as precious as a testosterone boosting gun.

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  4. michael reynolds says:

    Thank God. At least the civilized parts of this country won’t be forced to descend to the level of Texans.

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  5. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @grumpy realist: Yes it is about that, and suicides of people who don’t own the gun but know of it.

    because it impedes the ability of homeowner to defend themselves in a situation where unlocking a safe or a trigger lock would arguably take longer than necessary in an emergency.

    I know of one such case where my union business rep and his wife were being stalked over a long period of time and the whacko kicked in the ext door to their bedroom and started shooting right off. Jim got him but not before both he and his wife been shot. Somehow or other, I suspect Jim would have ignored this law at that point in time as they were both armed for a reason (they had restraining orders against the whacko). But I would hate to see the law set on such extreme situations when it is far more common to read “Toddler shoots brother/sister/self with Found Gun”. Easy enough to write an exception into the law for when a person has a restraining order.

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  6. stonetools says:

    I think the continuing spectacle of “open carry” a$$holes carrying AR15s into playgrounds, toddlers shooting toddlers, and biker gangs shooting it out in family restaurants finally got so bad that the sane right wing ideologues (Roberts, Kennedy) on the SCOTUS finally decided to put the brakes on the gun nuts, who were going around passing the most asinine laws imaginable (guns in bars? Seriously?) on the authority of Heller. I expect that there will be a reaction the other way, finally. At least a liberal can hope….

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  7. Tyrell says:

    @stonetools: “guns in bars” Even Dodge City and Tombstone (Wyatt Earp – Doc Holliday) had laws that you had to check your firearm in when entering the city.
    Not a bad idea – for Detroit, Chicago, Oakland.

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  8. grumpy realist says:

    (Sorry, that should be res ipsa loquitur. Res is feminine, 5th declension.)

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  9. Jack says:

    The other question, of course, is exactly how San Francisco purports to enforce this law since there is clearly no authority for law enforcement to demand entry to a home at random period of times just to see if someone is complying with this law.

    That will be the next law that SCOTUS will refuse to hear.

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  10. Jack says:

    @stonetools:

    guns in bars? Seriously?

    I Open Carry wherever I go unless it is wintertime, and then I carry in the same manner as when I Open Carry except I put on a coat or jacket. VA doesn’t have “bars”, but most establishments sell alcohol for consumption on the premises.

    There have never been any problems.

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  11. Jack says:

    @Tyrell:

    Not a bad idea – for Detroit, Chicago, Oakland.

    Yeah, because all the criminals will rush to give up their weapons because they pass another law.

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  12. C. Clavin says:

    @Jack:
    So that took all of 30 seconds to debunk.
    http://m.nydailynews.com/news/national/shooting-injures-4-virginia-bar-article-1.1585188
    Wrong again.
    Now say something about bestialty or pedophilia because you’re a fool.

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  13. Jack says:

    @C. Clavin: And what part exactly are you debunking??

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  14. Jack says:

    @C. Clavin:

    Now say something about bestialty or pedophilia because you’re a fool.

    How are Clavin and the Greek army alike? There both big, smelly, and they both came in a big horse!

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  15. C. Clavin says:

    @Jack:
    Thanks for proving my point.

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  16. stonetools says:

    @Jack:

    You do you , mate, but I don’t want to be in any bar where there is a drunk with a gun. And if you came into a bar and started drinking, I would leave and tell the bar tender, the owner, and anyone within the sound of my voice why I’m leaving. And I would not return to that bar again.
    The longer I live, the clearer it is to me that life is too short to be around stupid people.

    There have never been any problems.

    And the idiot with a toddler who carried around her gun in her purse never had a problem either-till her toddler found the gun in her purse and removed her from the gene pool. About the only thing good about that tragedy is that the toddler didn’t kill someone else’s mother.
    Guns generally aren’t a problem.-till they become a problem and somebody dies. Then people like you cry crocodile tears about how this is just an “isolated incident that “shouldn’t be politicized.” Except it happens over and over again.
    The sad thing is that people like you and Doug give cover for guns getting into hands of “law abiding” idiots who should never have these weapons in the first place, because they don’t have the sense that God gave a gerbil. They have a sense of entitlement, though-that lasts all the way till they do something stupid and someone dies.

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  17. Jack says:

    @C. Clavin: My pleasure. You demanded it, so I provided it.

    Again, what point of mine did you so utterly fail to debunk?

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  18. michael reynolds says:

    @Jack:

    You’re a guy who goes in a heartbeat from political discussion to personal threats against people here. You should not be in possession of a firearm, period, let alone carrying one around in public. It’s sheer assholery on your part and completely confirms my low opinion of you.

    Fortunately I don’t live in the south and the Supremes have decided that I don’t have to live around people like you.

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  19. Jack says:

    @michael reynolds: I have never made person threats against anyone.

    I share my opinion, like you. You don’t have to accept my opinion anymore than I have to accept yours.

    You should not be in possession of a firearm, period, let alone carrying one around in public.

    See, I don’t need your permission, that’s why it’s called a right, asshat.

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  20. Jack says:

    @stonetools: The sad thing is that people like you and Doug give cover for gunsballots getting into hands of “law abiding” idiots who should never have these weapons the ability to vote in the first place, because they don’t have the sense that God gave a gerbil. They have a sense of entitlement, though-that lasts all the way till they do something stupid and someone dies.

    See how stupid you sound.

    This country was set up for maximum individual freedom….NOT the best interest of the collective. It is what makes us different.

    My gun equips me to be a murderer in the exact same way your vagina equips you to be a prostitute. Yes, honey, you sound that stupid.

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  21. Jack says:

    @C. Clavin:

    How are Clavin and the Greek army alike? There both big, smelly, and they both came in a big horse!

    Now that’s funny right there, I don’t care who you are!

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  22. C. Clavin says:

    @michael reynolds:
    It becomes apparent that these cultists cling to the 2nd because absent that they would never pass common sense regulations instituted by reasonable people. The 2nd gives them cover for their shortcomings.

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  23. Stonetools says:

    @Jack:

    (Shrug) The stupid person here is the person who thinks that voting can kill.
    Pro Tip: if you don’t understand how to do good analogies, don’t do analogies. You don’t do yourself any favors by making ludicrous comparisons like equating carrying around killing machines to voting.
    Any way, I’m not going to bother arguing any more with gun nuts. It’s like arguing with creationists. With creationists, whatever the facts, the Earth is only 6000 yeas old. With gun nuts, whatever the facts, it’s never the easy availability of guns.
    In a just world, every shot fired by a toddler would find a gun enthusiast- then we would have laws mandating the secure storage of guns tomorrow. Sadly, we don’t live in such a world and they find other children and innocent bystanders instead. Meanwhile, the gun enthusiasts get to fondle their toys and the gun merchants laugh all the way to the bank.

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  24. Jack says:

    @Stonetools:

    The stupid person here is the person who thinks that voting can kill.

    So, you would argue that GWB getting elected did not result in hundreds of thousands of deaths.

    I think there are about 130 million Americans that would disagree with you.

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  25. Jack says:

    @C. Clavin:

    It becomes apparent that these cultists cling to the 2nd because absent that they would never pass common sense regulations instituted by reasonable people. The 2nd gives them cover for their shortcomings.

    The 2nd amendment doesn’t give, grant ,or bestow anything. Apparently you do not understand that the Bill of Rights was a limit on government, not citizens, cupcake.

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  26. michael reynolds says:

    @Jack:

    Frightened little man with a great big gun.

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  27. C. Clavin says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Frightened little man with a great big gun.

    Who talks big from behind his keyboard.
    Luckily the 2nd let’s him buy a gun so he can be a man.
    Because he’s clearly unable on his own.

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  28. grumpy realist says:

    @C. Clavin: It’s things like this that want me to sell certain people off for body parts…. obviously the lout who did this doesn’t have any cash so his victims can’t sue him in civil court for the injuries he caused them.

    So I guess they’re supposed to say “gee, I’m in the hospital and will probably have scars from this for the rest of my life, but hooray for the Second Amendment!”

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  29. gVOR08 says:

    @grumpy realist:
    And this showed up this morning. Shot dead: wife, three kids, and himself.

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  30. michael reynolds says:

    It’s interesting that the gun has become the totem of masculinity with guys like Jack. If you zoom out a bit you’ll see that the invention of the firearm actually marks the beginning of the relative decline of males v. females.

    For most of human history male upper body strength was vital to hunting, and later, to war. Not one woman in a thousand had the kind of physical strength and stamina to stand in a shield wall holding a 30 pound oak shield and swinging a 20 pound axe for hours on end. Same held true with the longbow. And even held true with the earliest firearms.

    Consider that 500 years ago women would not have been capable in any significant numbers of successfully wielding any of the implements of war. Flash forward to today where women can successfully wield all of the weapons of war. Fire a rifle? Sure. Fly a jet? Sure. Drive a tank? Sure. Literally the only part of war where women might reasonably be challenged is in long foot patrols in challenging terrain, and even that’s dubious.

    And it all started with the gun. Jack has got his little gun, and any 90 pound woman can walk up behind him with her own little gun.

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  31. grumpy realist says:

    @michael reynolds: You’ve reminded me of a Sylvia cartoon, where Sylvia is seated at the bar talking to her bartender friend Jack. He says: “I’m for gun rights.” Sylvia says: “Yes, I’d like to see a lot more women go armed.” Dead silence. Then Sylvia asks: “Cat got your tongue?”

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  32. Anjin-San says:

    Something tells me jack has not one, but two little guns. :)

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  33. Jack says:

    @grumpy realist: I encourage women owning and firing guns. I’m providing training to a friends daughter entering AF ROTC tomorrow evening.

    @Anjin-San: I have many, many guns…what some leftists would call an arsenal.

    @C. Clavin:

    Luckily the 2nd let’s him buy a gun so he can be a man.

    Again, the 2nd doesn’t let me do anything, but you already know that. Right?

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  34. Jack says:

    @michael reynolds: Elitist libtard without an original thought.

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  35. gVOR08 says:

    If you jack around feeding the troll you’ll allow him to continue hijacking the thread.

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