The Coastal Post - August 1999

SF Gun Suit Based On Lies And Ignorance

By Clayton E. Cramer

San Francisco City Attorney Louise Renne has sent out a press release that may be unintentionally the funniest press release ever issued. It contains a host of factual errors. Even more humorous than the false statements it contains is the ignorance of California gun control law that it reveals.

Ms. Renne claims: "The suit seeks to force the industry to comply with existing gun control legislation. Gun makers continue to market and sell guns banned by the United States' 1968 Gun Control Act and the California Roberti-Roos Assault Weapons Control Act of 1989." So why does San Francisco need to file a civil suit, if guns are being sold contrary to law? Why not just go arrest the dealers selling these banned guns?

Ms. Renne doesn't know what she's talking about. The Gun Control Act of 1968 didn't ban the possession or sale of any guns. It didn't ban the import of some inexpensive handguns. If any gun manufacturer is breaking the Gun Control Act of 1968 by illegally importing guns, Ms. Renne needs to call Washington. Somehow, I can't picture Bill Clinton's Justice Department passing up the opportunity to shut down gun companies for criminal


Are guns banned by the Roberti-Roos Act being sold in California by the gun industry? The Roberti-Roos Act carries a minimum four-year prison sentence for sale of the listed weapons. Why doesn't Ms. Renne just send the police out to arrest gun dealers selling these banned guns? Because she knows full well that the gun industry is complying with Roberti-Roos.

The press release describes the lawsuit as asking, "that gun makers be ordered to exercise better control over gun distribution, especially by telemarketers, and so-called "kitchen table dealers," such as flea market sellers, gun show dealers and others who put guns in the hands of unauthorized users." Telemarketers? I've been called about a hundred times in the last three years by telemarketers, but not a one of them has ever tried to sell me a gun. You can't buy guns over the phone unless you are a licensed dealer, which means that you have been fingerprinted and passed a background check by both the federal and state governments.

With a few exceptions, such as transfer within family, every firearm transfer in California, by law, must be processed through a licensed gun dealer. There is a waiting period and a background check. Anyone who sells guns at a gun show must have both federal and California dealer's licenses. Anyone who sells a gun at a gun show (or anywhere else in California) without both licenses is committing a crime.

So any person who sells guns in California is either already breaking the law, or selling guns only to people who have passed California's background check. Ms. Renne wants gun makers to stop gun traffickers who are already breaking the law. Of course, there's not a shred of evidence that any gun manufacturer sells guns to people who are not licensed dealers.

Ms. Renne's press release also demands that gun makers "should also be directed to prevent the sale of guns to 'straw purchasers,' who buy weapons from legitimate dealers and then resell them illegally. Companies should be required to review gun dealer records to ensure all purchases are legal, train dealers to recognize illegal purchasers, and sanction dealers for illegal sales." Hello in there! It is already a federal crime for a dealer knowingly to participate is a strawman sale. Gun makers don't have any legal authority to compel gun dealers to open their books, unlike the government.

The government, of course, can do a lot more than cut off gun sales to dealers for "illegal sales." They can send the dealer to prison. But isn't it amazing? City Attorney Renne wants private companies to use governmental powers to do something that the government (and only the government) is already authorized to do.

When lawyers submit paperwork to a court, they are obligated to tell the truth. If the press release is any indication of the lawsuit it announces, Louis Renne is going to have a lot of explaining to do to the judge.

Clayton E. Cramer's fifth book, Concealed Weapon Laws of the Early Republic: Dueling, Southern Violence, and Moral Reform, will be published by Praeger Press this year.

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