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Gun Owners Challenge San Francisco Law

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - Gun owners sued the City and County of San Francisco in Federal Court Tuesday, claiming its ban on large-capacity gun magazines violates the Second Amendment.

The San Francisco Veteran Police Officers Association, retired policeman Larry Barsetti and three other San Francisco residents say they fear prosecution when the ban takes effect on Dec. 8. They are represented by the West Coast counsel for the National Rifle Association.

"The city's ban on the very possession of these magazines directly violates plaintiffs' rights to keep and bear arms enshrined by the Second Amendment," the complaint states.

Mayor Edwin Lee, a defendant, signed the ordinance into law this month. It amended Police Code section 619 to ban guns with magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition.

Anyone who owns such a firearm must turn it into law enforcement to be destroyed, remove it from the city or sell it to a licensed firearms dealer by March 8, 2014.

According to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors: "Large-capacity magazines are not necessary for individuals to vindicate their right to self-defense. Only in an extraordinarily rare circumstance would a person using a firearm in self-defense ever be required to use a large-capacity magazine to defend himself or herself effectively."

But the plaintiffs claim guns with 10-round capacities are standard.

"Firearms equipped with magazines capable of holding more than ten rounds have been around for nearly two centuries," plaintiffs' lead attorney Chuck Michel said in a statement. "Although the San Francisco ordinance describes the banned magazines as 'large-capacity,' magazines with capacities of more than ten rounds are standard for many common handguns and long guns. Millions of firearms that have been sold in the United States come from the manufacturer with magazines capable of holding more than ten rounds."

He added: "Prohibiting the citizens of San Francisco from possessing standard firearm magazines is not an effective means of targeting behavior by violent criminals. The San Francisco Veteran Police Officers Association is challenging this law for that very reason. This is a misguided effort to dismiss the civil rights of the residents of San Francisco. The Second Amendment forbids the city from banning common firearm magazines that are possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes."

City Attorney Dennis Herrera called the lawsuit part of the NRA's "extremist agenda."

"But the U.S. Supreme Court - even in expanding the Second Amendment's scope - has been unequivocal that state and local governments are constitutionally entitled to enact reasonable firearms regulations. The high court has explicitly recognized that the constitution does not extend an unfettered individual right to keep and carry dangerous and unusual weapons," Herrera said in a statement.

The city is embroiled in two other legal battles with the NRA over gun rights. The NRA's challenges to the city's "safe-storage" law, requiring gun owners to keep guns locked and stored at home, and a ban on the sale of "enhanced lethality" ammunition are before the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The NRA is not a party to the new lawsuit, though Herrera indicated in his statement that he believes the NRA is the driving force behind it.

The NRA has announced plans to challenge a gun control measure recently passed by voters in Sunnyvale, a Silicon Valley city about 40 miles from San Francisco. That measure will require gun owners to keep guns locked when not in use, report the loss or theft of a gun within 48 hours, prohibits large-capacity magazines and requires vendors to keep sales logs for two years.

The San Francisco plaintiffs seek an injunction preventing the ordinance from being enforced and a declaration that it violates the Second Amendment.

Chuck Michel, with Michel & Associates, of Long Beach, is West Coast counsel for the National Rifle Association.

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