Recently, the city of San Deigo passed a mandatory storage law. The measure was pushed for by the city attorney, someone who isn’t elected to advance legislation. Instead, they’re supposed to vet proposed laws and make sure they comply with any state or federal statutes.
That’s not to say someone in that role can’t have an opinion, mind you, only that it’s not really part of their job.
That difference, however, is becoming an important point of contention in the city attorney’s race.
Gun control legislation has become a hot topic in the race for San Diego city attorney, with challenger Cory Briggs criticizing incumbent Mara Elliott for spearheading the city’s new law requiring safe storage of firearms.
Briggs, a local private sector attorney who frequently sues the city, says it’s inappropriate for Elliott to be a policy maker when the city charter limits her role to vetting legislation approved by the mayor and City Council.
He also criticized Elliott for using gun legislation to advance her political career. And he says the safe storage legislation is flawed because Elliott has no plans to enforce it.
Elliott, who was first elected in 2016 after serving as deputy city attorney, says Briggs’ criticisms echo concerns raised by gun rights advocates and show he’s out of touch with typical San Diegans.
She says it’s appropriate for her to propose gun legislation because one of her obligations as city attorney is to protect San Diego residents. And she says the legislation is not about her political career, but an effort to reduce gun violence at a time when it’s become a major societal concern.
On enforcement, she compares the goal of the safe storage law to previous legislation on seat belts and to warning signs telling people to clean up after their pets. Elliott says her priority is getting the word out and educating people, not issuing lots of citations.
Of course, Elliot is lying.
First, seatbelt laws aren’t overly difficult to enforce. If the police see someone not wearing a seatbelt, they can pull them over and write a ticket. The same is true of people not cleaning up after their pets.
Second, if this were about “getting the word out” and educating gun owners about how to store their weapons, the law wouldn’t call for punishing people who don’t.
That’s not how you educate people.
Elliot’s approach, if she were sincere, would be akin to giving people detention for getting a question wrong in history class. However, I have no reason at all to believe that she’s sincere.
Briggs argues that Elliot completely overstepped her authority anyway.
Briggs says the city charter clearly states that the city attorney’s role is serving as top legal advisor to the mayor and council, not policy making.
“It is inappropriate for the city attorney to act like a policy-maker because she has then created for herself a conflict of interest between fully disclosing all the legal risks associated with the proposed legislation, as any honest and competent lawyer would do, and wanting to claim victory for getting a new law passed, ” he said, “which means not telling the policy-makers about legal risks that could persuade them not to adopt the city attorney’s legislation and leaving her without a political victory to brag about.
“No city attorney can objectively evaluate his or her own work product.”
Unsurprisingly, Elliot disagrees.
However, it’s interesting this is shaping up like this. California is a pretty anti-gun state, and while San Diego has a large military population, it tends to have an anti-gun lean as well.
Yet this is only partially about gun control. It’s also about an official overstepping her authority to push for a law. As Briggs points out, if she wants the law in place, she may not disclose all of the potential pitfalls. In fairness, she may not even recognize them. Bias does funny things to people.
This should make the San Diego City Attorney’s race interesting to watch. What happens will tell us a good bit about where the people of San Diego stand on their mandatory storage law.