By Bob Egelko
The U.S. Supreme Court rejected efforts by gun owners and the National Rifle Association on Monday to halt San Francisco's enforcement of a 2007 ordinance requiring residents to keep handguns locked when stored at home.
The action, over the dissents of Justices Clarence Thomas and Antonin Scalia, was another step in defining the limits of the high court's 2008 ruling that said the Constitution guarantees the right to possess guns at home for self-defense.
Another important test of that ruling is scheduled for next Tuesday when an 11-judge panel of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco hears a challenge to a decades-old California law that gives county sheriffs the sole authority to decide whether residents have shown a need to carry a concealed weapon in public. A three-judge panel of the court ruled the law unconstitutional last year, but it remains in effect.
Overturning the law would allow residents claiming a need for self-defense to carry handguns in San Francisco and other populous counties where concealed-weapons permits are now virtually unavailable.
In a safe or locked
Under the San Francisco ordinance, handgun owners can keep their weapons at home but must keep them locked in safes or disabled by trigger locks when not using them.
Gun advocates argued that the law interferes with the right of self-defense that was constitutionally protected by the Supreme Court's 2008 ruling. But a three-judge panel of the appeals court in March refused to halt enforcement of the ordinance, saying it does not interfere with the right of self-defense or seriously hamper a gun owner's ability to use a weapon.
Because trigger locks and modern gun safes can be opened quickly, a stored or locked handgun "may be readily accessed in case of an emergency," Judge Sandra Ikuta said in the appeals court's ruling. "Provided San Franciscans comply with the storage requirement, they are free to use handguns to defend their home while carrying them on their persons."
The ordinance, Ikuta said, serves the legitimate purpose of "reducing the number of gun-related injuries and deaths from having an unlocked handgun in the home."
In the same ruling, the court allowed San Francisco to continue to enforce a 1994 ordinance that prohibits local sales of hollow-point bullets that explode or splinter on contact. Gun advocates did not mention that law in their Supreme Court appeal and challenged only the trigger-lock ordinance.
"Law-abiding residents must keep their handguns inoperable or inaccessible precisely when they are needed most for self-defense -- in the middle of the night, while the residents are asleep and decidedly not carrying," said attorneys for the National Rifle Association, the San Francisco Veteran Police Officers Association and six individual gun owners.
Thomas argued Monday that the court should have taken up the case and was joined in his dissent by Scalia, author of the 2008 ruling that established the constitutional right to own a gun for self-defense.
Thomas wrote that laws that do not amount to an "absolute prohibition" on gun ownership can nevertheless violate the Constitution.
The court's refusal to take up the case encouraged Juliet Leftwich, legal director the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, a San Francisco organization.
Despite a flood of lawsuits challenging state and local gun regulations after the 2008 ruling, she said, "in the overwhelming number of cases, courts are upholding the laws." Apart from absolute prohibitions on gun ownership, Leftwich said, "state and local governments have a lot of room in which to regulate guns and reduce gun violence."
The case is Jackson vs. San Francisco, 14-704.
Chronicle staff writer Henry K. Lee contributed to this report.
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