When the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) recently denied certiorari (review) in the case of Jackson v. City and County of San Francisco, gun owners were the losers. As Law Shield program lawyer Justin McShane in Pennsylvania wrote, “…[D]espite the clear language in District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008), there simply were not enough votes (four justices out of nine) to get the case reviewed or enough votes to gather a ‘GVR,’ as was advocated.” GVR means SCOTUS “Grants certiorari,” “Vacates” the decision below, and Remands the case to a lower court.” A 2007 San Francisco ordinance requires residents to keep handguns locked up or disabled with trigger locks when the gun owners are not carrying their weapons. Another part of the case dating to 1994 bans hollow-point bullets.
Petitioners—six San Francisco residents who keep handguns in their homes, as well as two organizations—filed suit to challenge this law under the Second Amendment in 2012. They lost at the district court level. Then, in March 2014, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s decision and left both the lockbox requirement and hollow-point ban intact.
In their petition for a hearing before the Supreme Court, the plaintiffs argued they had precedent on their side, citing the high court’s ruling in District of Columbia v. Heller. In that case, the justices ruled that under the Second Amendment, a gun owner has a right to self-defense with a gun available within the home.
But only two justices, Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia, voted to review the case, two short of the four justices necessary.
If San Francisco–area gun owners violate Section 4512 of the San Francisco Police Code, they are in a world of hurt. That ordinance “provides that ‘[n]o person shall keep a handgun within a residence owned or controlled by that person unless’ (1) ‘the handgun is stored in a locked container or disabled with a trigger lock that has been approved by the California Department of Justice’ or (2) ‘[t]he handgun is carried on the person of an individual over the age of 18’ or ‘under the control of a person who is a peace officer. The law applies across the board, regardless of whether children are present in the home. A violation of the law is punishable by up to six months of imprisonment and/or a fine of up to $1,000.
In a six-page dissent, Thomas, joined by Scalia, wrote that the San Francisco gun laws are “in serious tension with Heller” and that the prior court rulings had “failed to protect” the Second Amendment.
“San Francisco’s law allows residents to use their handguns for the purpose of self-defense, but it prohibits them from keeping those handguns operable for the purpose of immediate self-defense when not carried on the person,” Thomas wrote.
“Despite the clarity with which we described the Second Amendment’s core protection for the right of self-defense, lower courts, including the ones here, have failed to protect it,” Justice Scalia wrote in dissent. “Because Second Amendment rights are no less protected by our Constitution than other rights enumerated in that document, I would have granted this petition.”