San Francisco may be one of the most hostile cities in the country when it comes to the Second Amendment. Back in 2005 a majority of voters approved a ban on handguns in the city (the measure was struck down by the courts before it could go into effect), the last gun store in the city closed almost six years ago, and local politicians know that they can’t go wrong by pushing for more restrictions on gun owners.
That doesn’t mean that the gun control laws local officials end up pushing would actually do anything to make the city a safer place, but if a city supervisor or mayor want some positive press, all they have to do is introduce a gun ban.
San Francisco would be the first city in California to completely ban the possession and sale of untraceable firearms, known as “ghost guns,” under new legislation that seeks to combat the surge in shootings across The City.
The new legislation, from Supervisor Catherine Stefani, would make it a misdemeanor for anyone in San Francisco to possess, buy or sell the unserialized parts used to make ghost guns, with few exceptions. The legislation specifically bans unfinished frames or receivers that are used to build ghost guns and are not imprinted with a serial number.
“Every community needs a ghost gun ban because every community is threatened by ghost guns,” Stefani said at a press conference Tuesday, announcing the legislation. Stefani called the prevalence of ghost guns an “absolute crisis” and urged other cities to follow suit.
I’m always amused by anti-gun politicians who proclaim that something is a crisis or an emergency and then propose a new misdemeanor offense. If the issue is that people who can’t legally own a firearm are building their own and using them in crimes, then I have news for Supervisor Stefani: it’s already a felony offense for them to do so. Adding a new misdemeanor offense for possessing or building a homemade firearm isn’t going to prevent any crimes. It’s actually just creating them.
As the San Francisco Examiner first reported last month, police are increasingly coming across the untracable weapons while investigating shootings, robberies and homicides in San Francisco. Police data shows the cops seized 164 ghost guns in 2020 compared to just 6 in 2016. And police say those numbers are only the “tip of the iceberg” in terms of how many untraceable guns are out there at a time when shootings are up in The City.
Police Chief Bill Scott, who supports the legislation, said the proposed ban would help “control” the rise in shootings. Police data shows 77 people have been shot so far in 2021 as of last week compared to just 30 during the same time period last year. And Scott said 44 percent of the firearms his officers recovered in connection with homicides were ghost guns last year compared to only 6 percent of guns in 2019.
I’m willing to believe that more home-built guns are being used by criminals, but I don’t think banning the DIY gun kits or unfinished firearm parts is going to do anything to address the problem. San Francisco can’t ban its way to safety. If it were that easy, there wouldn’t have been 713 drug overdose deaths in the city last year.
The drug deaths in San Francisco — about two a day — stem from a confluence of despair. Fentanyl, an opioid that was not a severe problem for the city just a few years ago, has fully permeated its illicit drug market and was a factor in most overdoses last year. A culture of relative tolerance toward drug use has allowed it to spread quickly. And fentanyl, much more powerful than heroin, has found fertile ground among the city’s thousands of homeless residents, who have died of overdoses in large numbers.
For officials in San Francisco who have prided themselves on their handling of health emergencies, from H.I.V. four decades ago to Covid-19 today, the epidemic of overdose deaths has been both humbling and alarming. Many believe that the city’s preoccupation with the pandemic has eclipsed concern over the drug deaths and blunted the urgency of the moment.
“I can say for sure that what we are doing is not working and that it’s getting worse every single day,” said Matt Haney, a member of the city’s Board of Supervisors who represents the Tenderloin, a district of low-income housing in the heart of the city that has seen the most overdoses. “I get offered drugs every time I step outside. It’s overwhelming.”
Now, it’s true that San Francisco is far more tolerant of fentanyl than it is even legal gun ownership, but that doesn’t change the fact that a drug that’s illegal under federal, state, and local law is so widely available that that Supervisor Haney can’t walk outside without dealers offering him a cheap and deadly high.
Similarly, banning DIY gun-making kits or the home-built guns themselves won’t stop criminals from getting ahold of a gun on the black market, or simply printing a gun with a 3D printer. The idea of trying to reduce crime by reducing the supply of firearms was never going to be successful, but technology has made it completely irrelevant.
What Stefani should be trying to do is to reduce crime by reducing the demand for guns among criminals. And how do you do that? By ensuring that there are consequences for using a gun in the commission of a crime. Instead, however, lawmakers in Sacramento are trying to reduce the sentences for violent crimes in which a gun was used.
Assemblyman Alex Lee’s office said he agreed to co-sponsor the bill “to correct decades of harm done to communities of color.” Staffers recently created a “fact sheet” that argues imposing stiffer sentencing laws added on to the charge of an underlying offense drives up incarceration rates, crowds prisons, and serves as “a legal monument to racism.”
“If a gun is used during a violent felony offense – such as a robbery – California’s ‘10-20-Life’ gun enhancement applies,” it said. “A 10-year enhancement is available for any use of a gun, which is increased to 20 years if the gun is discharged, and to 25-to-life if great bodily injury or death occurs.”
AB 1509, as the bill is known, would eliminate the use of most gun enhancements and significantly reduce the others, modifying them from 10-20-life to 1-2-3 years.
If Stefani’s serious about making San Francisco a safer place, she’d be better off spending her time and political capital lobbying against AB 1509. If, on the other hand, she’s more interested in getting a few positive headlines for offering a meaningless gun control measure, I guess she’s on the right track.