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NRA Seeks to Overturn Handgun Bans Beyond D.C.

SCOTT SIMON, host:

And the lawsuits Nina mentioned have already begun. The National Rifle Association filed five lawsuits yesterday challenging local handgun bans in Chicago and San Francisco. NPR's Richard Gonzales reports.

RICHARD GONZALES: The co-plaintiff in the NRA-San Francisco lawsuit is a gay gun owner who lives in public housing administered by the city. The suit cites a pseudonym for the man because it says he fears retaliation by his landlords. He also fears being the victim of a hate crime, and he keeps a firearm in his home for protection. But the San Francisco Housing Authority forbids public housing residents from possessing guns in their homes, and it requires them to sign leases acknowledging that ban. Violating the ban means automatic eviction.

But after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a handgun ban in Washington, D.C., the man is suing the city, arguing that his rights under the Second Amendment are being violated. He is joined by the NRA and the Washington-based Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Firearms. Its chairman is Alan Gottlieb.

Mr. ALAN GOTTLIEB (Chairman, Citizens Committee for the Right to Keep and Bear Firearms): The truth of the matter is public housing places in San Francisco tend to have high crime associated in their areas. And if you lived in public housing, you'd want a firearm to defend yourself more than somebody who's living in a gated community.

GONZALES: San Francisco's ban on handguns in public housing was enacted just last year. City Attorney Dennis Herrera says it's a commonsense law that will survive legal challenges.

Mr. DENNIS HERRERA (City Attorney, San Francisco): We are confident we're on very good legal stead when you look at our laws as compared to what is required. The parameters have been set out by the Supreme Court's opinion.

GONZALES: The San Francisco suit is one of five legal actions taken against local gun control laws. The others are in Chicago and several of its suburbs. The Chicago gun ban is similar to the one invalidated by the U.S. Supreme Court. But the high court left open the question of whether its Second Amendment ruling applies against the states and cities. And here is some legal history. There are two 19th-century high court rulings that said the Second Amendment limits the federal government but not the states.

Professor MICHAEL DORF (Law, Cornell University): The NRA strategy is to go before the lower federal courts and make the argument that the Second Amendment is a limit on the states and on the municipalities.

GONZALES: That's Cornell law professor Michael Dorf. He says the lower federal courts cannot overturn those 19th-century rulings. Only the U.S. Supreme Court can do that.

Professor DORF: The NRA will expect to lose those cases in the lower courts but eventually to get a case before the U.S. Supreme Court which would then say, if they succeed, that the Second Amendment is indeed a limit not only in the federal government but on the states and municipalities as well.

GONZALES: And Dorf says if the U.S. Supreme Court eventually rules that the Second Amendment limits the state's power to regulate firearms, it would invalidate local laws restricting handguns. Richard Gonzales, NPR News, San Francisco. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Richard Gonzales is NPR's National Desk Correspondent based in San Francisco. Along with covering the daily news of region, Gonzales' reporting has included medical marijuana, gay marriage, drive-by shootings, Jerry Brown, Willie Brown, the U.S. Ninth Circuit, the California State Supreme Court and any other legal, political, or social development occurring in Northern California relevant to the rest of the country.