Chip, chip, chipping away in San Francisco
November 16, 2005
The world has its strange little corners, places where weird is everyday and strange is commonplace. The Bermuda triangle, the Egyptian pyramids, Roswell, N.M. come to mind. And of course there’s San Francisco, where weirdness is embraced and institutionalized. It’s a city where the mayor promotes homeless camping in public parks, but has their shopping carts seized. A city of contradictions, where hippie central (Haight and Ashbury) is also high-tech central (Oracle), where granolas and yuppies mix and mingle.
As if San Francisco needed to add to its list of credentials, the city now has A) a law that bans handgun ownership, and B) a law designed to eliminate the pit bull breed inside city limits. San Francisco apparently thinks it has seceded from the United States, and is in the process of writing its own constitution, a constitution with eloquently developed principles of law, such as: “Guns … bad,” and “Pit bulls… really bad.”
Having grown up in a San Francisco suburb, I always thought of it as a model city – socially conscious, diverse, international, but at the same time realist and traditional. It’s a well-educated, well-read city with a good mix of blue collar and white collar, old and young. San Franciscans were grounded, despite being metropolitan. You don’t find many cities that are both.
But things change.
It is confounding that San Francisco voters think in such simple terms as “Guns … bad” when the obvious root cause of violence has nothing to do with guns (Imagine a law banning ice picks). And no matter how you feel about the Second Amendment – whether it should be removed and thrown out the window – it makes common sense that a gun ban as broad as San Francisco’s is a constitutional rights violation.
Just like with freedom of speech and religion, the constitution is clear and unequivocal on gun ownership … and we have a process to change it if we want. It’s called an amendment. I would expect San Franciscans to know that, especially considering how many of them are currently enrolled in one of the city’s many law schools.
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Perhaps San Francisco is taking a cue from Berkeley (another one of those Roswell-type places), where the best real estate is located in a “nuclear-free zone.” Ever since the City Council smartly passed that designation, Berkeley has indeed been nuclear free. And San Francisco has taken notice. Maybe next they should pass a “ban on illegal activities” law, and finally rid the city of crime. Deep thinkers.
The pit bull ban is a little more complicated … because pit bulls bite people. And they are bred to bite people. And they look mean. And sometimes they are dressed in spiked collars, and used to guard crack houses. While there are pit bull fight clubs, you’ll never find a Yorkshire terrier fight club.
But that’s all reputation. Pit bulls aren’t inherently bad. They aren’t “loaded weapons,” to use the gun-ban lexicon. They’re good dogs that do bad things. So isn’t a dangerous pit bull the owner’s fault? And shouldn’t strict laws hold owners liable (criminally and civilly) when pit bulls attack? That’s the incentive to stop dangerous pit bulls. Ask any San Francisco law student.
But San Francisco’s solution to the alleged pit bull problem is to require owners to spay and neuter their dogs, while breeders of dogs recognized by a kennel club would be exempt (??), provided they hold a city-issued license. The law will serve as a “model for other cities,” bragged City Supervisor Bevan Duffy. I hope not.
The pit bull ban, like the gun ban, is part of a general chipping away of individual freedom for the perceived benefit of the whole. It’s all connected – book bans, disallowing passengers in the backs of pickup trucks, alcohol prohibition, motorcycle helmet laws, unfair taxes, etc. – and every time we start to make progress, away from laws that limit freedom (unlike the Constitution, which guarantees freedom), San Francisco voters, and politicians, have to screw it up.
We can live in a world of rules and regulations, a utopia where safety and protection replace freedom and accountability. But it only works that way in theory. Personally, I’d rather live in the real world, even if it is normal.
– Jim Scripps, managing editor of the Tahoe Daily Tribune, can be reached at email@example.com.
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