San Francisco gun control proposals targeting ammo sure to be target of lawsuits 

click to enlarge Police officials have taken a special interest in banning Black Talon ammo. - WIKIPEDIA COMMONS
  • Wikipedia Commons
  • Police officials have taken a special interest in banning Black Talon ammo.

A committee of the Board of Supervisors will consider two gun-control measures today that were proposed by Mayor Ed Lee and Supervisor Malia Cohen. Both have been approved and endorsed by the Police Department and are sure to pass at the full board.

Current law requires that all vendors who sell ammunition to people within city limits — even vendors outside San Francisco — keep records of sales, but it doesn’t require the seller to report anyone. One proposed law would force sellers, wherever they are, to contact the chief of police within 24 hours when anyone in San Francisco buys more than 500 total rounds in a single transaction.

I asked Police Chief Greg Suhr what he planned to do with such information, and he said, “It would let us know who was buying ammunition in ‘quantity’ so we could follow up with, ‘What’s up with buying so much ammunition?’-type questions.”

The other proposed law would make it a crime to possess Winchester Black Talon ammunition and bullets that are similar to the Black Talon. In his letter endorsing the law, Suhr pointed out that on “July 1, 1993, Gian Luigi [Ferri] used a TEC-9 loaded with a mix of standard and Black Talon ammunition to carry out a deadly assault at 101 California Street in San Francisco, leaving eight people dead and six wounded.”

The law also would add any ammunition “designated by its manufacturer for sale to law enforcement or military agencies only” to the list of bullets you can’t possess.

In case you don’t know which bullets are similar to the Black Talon or which ones are designated for police and military, the Police Department is supposed to set up a public list so you can be sure your ammunition stash won’t land you in jail for six months or get you slapped with a $1,000 fine.

But here’s the kicker: If something is not on the Police Department’s public list, it doesn’t mean you’re safe. The law specifically allows for criminal prosecution of people who possess banned bullets even if the ammo is not on the list.

It’s that last part — where the law expects purchasers to know bullet designations and similarities to Black Talons because the police list could be incomplete or nonexistent — that will probably cause this law to be challenged in court. It’s unconstitutional to criminalize behavior that is not clearly defined. And anyway, gun-rights advocates file lawsuits whenever The City passes a law related to firearms and ammo.

Case in point: The gun laws we already have on the books are the subject of a legal battle. In 2009, The City prohibited the sale of — though not the possession of — hollow-point bullets and required all guns in people’s homes to be trigger-locked or stored in a locked container. The National Rifle Association is trying to invalidate both laws as unconstitutional infringements on the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms.

In August, a federal court sided with San Francisco and upheld both laws. Now the case is at the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, where we probably won’t get a ruling until sometime this summer.

By that time, the NRA will have filed a lawsuit against one or both of these two new law proposals.

Melissa Griffin’s column runs each Thursday and Sunday. She also appears Mondays in “Mornings with Melissa” at  6:45 a.m. on KPIX (Ch. 5). Email her at

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