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"San Francisco Sues Gun Makers" Press Release; Did They Get Any Facts Right?

Press releases are where you put your best foot forward – an opportunity to express yourself without embarrassing questions from reporters. When you put out a press release that destroys your own credibility, it isn’t confidence-inspiring. Look at the press release put out by the San Francisco City Attorney, Louise Renne, (, announcing a lawsuit against the gun industry. If a press release has ever done more damage to the person who paid for it, I haven’t seen it.

"The suit seeks to force the industry to comply with existing gun control legislation. Gun makers continue to market and sell guns banned by the United States 1968 Gun Control Act and the California Roberti-Roos Assault Weapons Control Act of 1989, according to the suit." So why does San Francisco need to file a civil suit, if guns are being sold contrary to law? Why not just go arrest the dealers selling these banned guns?

Ms. Renne doesn’t know what she’s talking about. The Gun Control Act of 1968 prohibited importation of some small and cheaply made handguns, but didn’t ban possession or sale, nor did it prohibit companies from making them in the U.S. As gun control advocate Robert Sherrill explained two decades ago in the very entertaining The Saturday Night Special, "The Gun Control Act of 1968 was passed not to control guns but to control blacks, and inasmuch as a majority of Congress did not want to do the former but were ashamed to show that their goal was the latter, the result was that they did neither. Indeed, this law, the first gun-control law passed by Congress in thirty years, was one of the grand jokes of our time." If any gun manufacturer is breaking the Gun Control Act of 1968, Ms. Renne needs to call Washington. Somehow, I can’t picture Bill Clinton’s Justice Department passing up the opportunity to shut down gun makers for criminal violations.

Are guns banned by the Roberti-Roos Act being sold in California by the gun industry? The Roberti-Roos Act carries a minimum four year prison sentence for sale of the listed weapons. Why doesn’t Ms. Renne just send the police out to arrest gun dealers selling these banned guns? Because she knows full well that the gun industry is complying with Roberti-Roos – and she doesn’t have the honesty to admit that the real problem is what many gun owners said in 1989, when Roberti-Roos was passed. Roberti-Roos was a poorly drafted measure, and the only way to fix the loopholes in it would have banned guns owned by 15% or more of Californians – a politically unpalatable measure.

"They also continue to sell Saturday Night Specials and other ‘junk guns’ within local jurisdictions which have banned these guns…." Then why doesn’t her office go out and arrest the violators of these bans, instead of filing a civil suit? Or did San Francisco make the same mistake as some cities in Sonoma County, that prohibited sale of "Saturday Night Specials" – but forgot to specify a penalty? Whoops! Perhaps instead of a civil suit, San Francisco needs to work on writing laws a little more competently?

In just one paragraph -- three not terribly long sentences -- Louise Renne demonstrated that her office can’t put out an accurate and honest press release. Space, alas, prevents me from taking apart the rest of the falsehoods and contradictions that make up Renne’s press release. When lawyers submit paperwork to a court, they are obligated to tell the truth. If the press release is any indication of the lawsuit it announces, Louise Renne is going to have a lot of explaining to do to the judge.

Clayton E. Cramer’s fifth book, Concealed Weapon Laws of the Early Republic: Dueling, Southern Violence, and Moral Reform will be published by Praeger Press this year.