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Mass Shootings Justify S.F. Limit on Bullets

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) - A ban on high-capacity magazines does not violate the Second Amendment, a federal judge found, saying San Francisco's public safety interest outweighs the burden placed on gun owners.

"Although there will be some occasions when a law-abiding citizen needs more than ten rounds to defend himself or his family, the record shows that such occasions are rare," U.S. District Judge William Alsup wrote Wednesday. "Nonetheless, in those rare cases, to deprive the citizen of more than ten shots may lead to his or her own death. Let this point be conceded. In assessing the balance of equities, those rare occasions must be weighed against the more frequent and documented occasions when a mass murderer with a gun holding eleven or more rounds empties the magazine and slaughters innocents."

Mayor Edwin Lee signed the ordinance into law in November 2013. 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 April 7, 2014, an enforcement date that was extended from March 8.

Retired policeman Larry Barsetti joined Rainerio Granados, Randall Low, Arthur Ritchie and The San Francisco Veteran Police Officers Association in a federal complaint that claims the ordinance is unconstitutional.

Alsup concluded, however, that the ban "does not 'destroy' the right to self-defense; it 'merely burdens' it."

"It is possible, of course, to use a magazine holding more than ten rounds for self-defense," he wrote. "But, again, we are not dealing with a total ban on all magazines. Instead, we are dealing with a total ban only on magazines holding more than ten rounds. Magazines holding up to ten rounds are perfectly legal under the ordinance."

Alsup contrasted the case with the 9th Circuit's finding earlier this month in Peruta v. County of San Diego that permit requirements amounting to an effective ban on carrying a firearm in public is unconstitutional.

In this case, Alsup found that the parties had ignored the history behind the Second Amendment's ratification. "The bottom line on history is that there is no proof that multi-bullet magazines for firearms were in use at the time of the ratification of the Second Amendment," he wrote.

Alsup's ruling continually emphasized the rarity of self-defense situations that would require a magazine holding more than 10 rounds.

"The record further shows that the number of instances in which more than ten rounds have been fired in self-defense (in our entire country) by civilians is exceedingly rare," he wrote (parentheses in original). "Moreover, it would be perfectly lawful under the San Francisco ordinance to carry or keep two magazines, each holding ten rounds, for a total of twenty rounds - even more if more magazines are desired. If and when the first magazine ran out, the self-defender could eject it and insert a backup."

Alsup focused on the city's goal of preventing gun violence, citing five mass shootings involving the use of guns with high-capacity magazines, the most recent being the Dec. 14, 2012 shooting in Newtown, Conn, that left 27 killed.

"The record demonstrates that there is a very high correlation between mass shootings and the use of magazines with the capacity to accept more than ten rounds," Alsup said. "San Francisco has proven that its ordinance is substantially related to its goals of protecting public safety and reducing injuries resulting from criminal use."

He added: If a mass murderer has to reload because he or she does not have a magazine with the capacity to accept more than ten rounds, there is a better chance that someone present will subdue him or her sooner."

In a statement issued after the ruling, City Attorney Dennis Herrera said, "I applaud Judge Alsup for a wise ruling that powerfully affirms San Francisco's rationale for enacting our common sense gun safety law. The U.S. Supreme Court has been very clear that state and local governments are constitutionally entitled to enact reasonable firearms regulations, and that Second Amendment rights aren't unlimited."

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