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San Francisco Sues Gun Makers for Failing to Do The Government’s Job

San Francisco City Attorney Louise Renne has sent out a press release ( that may be unintentionally the funniest press release ever issued. It contains a host of factual errors (and I’m being generous here; too many to fully cover here. Even more humorous than the false statements it contains is the ignorance of California gun control law that it reveals.

The press release describes the lawsuit as asking, "that gun makers be ordered to exercise better control over gun distribution, especially by telemarketers, and so-called ‘kitchen table dealers,’ such as flea market sellers, gun show dealers and others who put guns in the hands of unauthorized users." Telemarketers? I’ve been called about a hundred times in the last three years by telemarketers, but not a one of them has ever tried to sell me a gun. You can’t buy guns over the phone unless you are a licensed dealer, which means that you have been fingerprinted and passed a background check by both the federal and state governments.

With a few exceptions such as transfers within family, or involving curios and relics, every firearm transfer in California, by law, must be processed through a licensed gun dealer. There is a waiting period and a background check. Anyone that sells guns at a gun show must have both federal and California dealer’s licenses. Anyone that sells a gun at a gun show (or anywhere else in California) without both licenses is committing a misdemeanor. Anyone who sells more than four guns a year without a dealer’s license is committing a federal crime as well.

So anyone who sells guns in California is either already breaking the law, or is selling guns only to people that have passed California’s fairly stringent background check. Ms. Renne wants gun makers to stop gun traffickers who are already breaking both state and federal laws – yet unless I’ve missed something along the way, private businesses don’t have the authority to arrest people and send them to jail. That’s the government’s job. Perhaps Ms. Renne could talk to someone in San Francisco government about this problem – like herself?

Ms. Renne’s press release also demands that gun makers "should also be directed to prevent the sale of guns to ‘straw purchasers,’ who buy weapons from legitimate dealers and then resell them illegally…. Companies should be required to review gun dealer records to ensure all purchases are legal, train dealers to recognize illegal purchasers, and sanction dealers for illegal sales." Hello in there! It is already a federal crime for a dealer to knowingly participate in a strawman sale. Gun makers don’t have any legal authority to compel gun dealers to open their books – unlike the government. The government, of course, can do a lot more than cut off gun sales to dealers for "illegal sales" – they can send the dealer to prison. But isn’t it amazing? Once again, City Attorney Renne wants private companies to use governmental powers to do something that the government (and only the government) is already authorized to do.

I am beginning to see a pattern here; are you? Governments refuse to use the authority that they already have to pursue unlawful transfers, but insist that private firms that do not have that authority do so instead. Perhaps Ms. Renne should spend a bit less time and money demanding that private companies be the government, and spend a little more time doing her job.

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.