by Marshall Lewin - Thursday, January 12, 2017
Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse for California gun owners, the drought and wildfires turn to rioting, earthquakes, mudslides and tsunamis.
As a fitting finale to a year in which Sacramento passed seven new anti-gun laws on the day before New Year’s Eve, the California Department of Justice (DOJ) issued a slate of new regulations—interpreting the state’s new ban on so-called “Bullet Button Assault Weapons”—that amounts to a gun-banner’s wish list.
“The folks that wrote these regulations really went out of their way to make as many things illegal as possible,” said Chuck Michel, an attorney for the California Rifle and Pistol Association (CRPA).
And here’s the crowning insult: Whereas California’s regular rulemaking process requires state agencies to allow at least 45 days for public comment before any regulation takes effect, the DOJ submitted its regulations to the Office of Administrative Law as “File and Print”—meaning no public comment—just two days before the law took effect. “The folks that wrote these regulations really went out of their way to make as many things illegal as possible.” — CRPA attorney Chuck Michel
Which led Michel to characterize the stunt as “Kamala Harris’ nasty goodbye to gun owners” as she left her post as California attorney general to make mischief for gun owners—at the national level—as California’s newest U.S. senator.
Without getting into all the legalistic maneuvering California’s DOJ used to try to sneak its regulations under the wire and into the law, the larger concern for gun owners is how those regulations dramatically expand and exacerbate California’s new “Bullet Button Assault Weapons” ban.
A bit of history is in order here.
In 1989, California banned so-called “assault rifles.” The list of characteristics they used to define what qualified as a banned “assault weapon” is too complex and confusing to wade into here, but one key feature verboten by the law was the ability to accept a detachable magazine.
Creative manufacturers found ways to both comply with the laws and preserve as much functionality as possible in firearms, and one of these was the so-called “bullet button.” A “bullet button” replaces the standard push-button magazine release used on AR-15 rifles with a fixed lug containing a small button which is too small to be pressed by a finger, but operable if pressed with the bullet of a loaded cartridge. Since the law stipulated that detachable magazines were banned unless their removal required tools, and since the California DOJ defined a loaded cartridge in this case as a “tool,” the so-called “bullet button” allowed users to lawfully detach and replace magazines, so long as they obeyed California’s 10-round-capacity magazine limit and myriad other restrictions.
But last year, in a case of legislative “Whack-A-Mole,” California banned firearms containing the “bullet button” modification unless owners register them with the state by Dec. 31, 2017. (Buyer beware, however: California has a history of promising, “You can keep your gun if you register it”—and then turning around, expanding its bans, and using those registration lists to dispossess owners of guns.)
Worse, the regulations that the DOJ snuck in to implement this law on the eve of New Year’s Eve would drop the hammer on California gun owners with a wide variety of new restrictions.
Included within the DOJ’s list of regulations are over 40 new definitions; requirements that gun owners provide extensive and excessive personal information with their registrations, along with four clear digital photos of their guns; requirements for serializing firearms built from so-called “80 percent receivers”; expansion of the banned “assault weapon” definition to include “bullet-button”-equipped shotguns; restrictions on removing the “bullet button” after the firearm is registered as an “assault weapon”; and more.
Many anti-gun laws are so vague and open to interpretation that they rightly put gun owners in a state of fear over unintentionally violating some hidden, blank-check gotcha clause that never made it into the newspapers. This is undoubtedly exactly the intent of some of the “dumb like a fox” lawmakers who come up with these insidious schemes—and the DOJ’s latest regulations contain several that are sure to ensnare the unwary.
For example, one of the things that transformed a semi-automatic pistol into a banned “assault weapon” under existing California law was a threaded barrel that could accept a flash suppressor or forward grip—unless something was welded or otherwise permanently affixed to the threaded portion. Now, however, it’s unclear whether a threaded barrel is legal, even if a legal device is permanently attached to cover the threads. If a manufacturer were to call a rifle a “bazooka,” that doesn’t make it a destructive device.
Furthermore, California bans not only “assault weapon” flash suppressors, but also anything that has flash-suppressing properties—such as a muzzle brake—as well as anything that any manufacturer advertises as having flash suppressing properties. As Joseph Silvoso, another attorney representing the CRPA in this matter notes, “If a manufacturer were to call a rifle a ‘bazooka,’ that doesn’t make it a destructive device.” Nonetheless, it appears this is the DOJ’s stance.
The regulations the DOJ submitted go on for 19 pages, and you can read them here.
The DOJ argues that it didn’t need to subject its regulations to the 45-day public comment period required under California law, claiming that it’s exempt from that law under California’s “emergency rulemaking process.”
However, the NRA and the CRPA are fighting that gambit. This week, the groups’ legal team sent a joint letter to the DOJ demanding that it withdraw its regulations as a violation of the authority granted under the law, as well as a joint letter calling on the state’s Office of Administrative Law to reject the DOJ’s regulations.Failing that, the CRPA plans to file a lawsuit to stop the regulations from becoming law.
Use Your Power!
It’s bad enough that California’s legislature passes one gun ban after another with no concern for the rights of gun owners, no analysis of whether the laws work, and no end in sight. But when state agencies like California’s DOJ take it upon themselves to simply expand those bans at will and at whim, without even allowing for public review or comment, that adds injury to insult. To find out more about the California DOJ’s “bullet button assault weapon” regulations—and other issues endangering California gun owners’ rights—you can view in-depth webinars by clicking here.
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