California has long had some of the toughest firearms laws in the nation, and now they are even tougher. The new laws also make law-abiding gun owners into criminals. As of January 1, 2017, standard AR rifles can no longer be bought or sold under a law that went into effect that day. Since there was a 10-day waiting period in effect, no one could purchase such a weapon after December 21. If the owner didn't pick up the gun by December 31, he or she is out of luck as far as receiving their rifle.
Back in 2013, Governor Jerry Brown vetoed a similar bill, but recent international terroristic attacks – as well as the San Bernardino shootings – made such an assault weapons ban more politically palatable in some circles. Brown signed the current legislation last July. Now, millions of Californians may face felony charges if they fail to register these firearms under the new laws. Some serious civil disobedience by gun owners appears on the agenda.
Under the new law, “assault weapon” is redefined to include: “A semiautomatic centerfire rifle, or a semiautomatic pistol that does not have a fixed magazine but has any one of those specified attributes.” The bill also defines “fixed magazine” to mean an ammunition feeding device contained in, or permanently attached to, a firearm in such a manner that the device cannot be removed without disassembly of the firearm action.”
The law prohibits possession of magazines holding more than 10 rounds. Purchasing ammunition requires a background check.
Bypassing the Restrictions
When is an assault weapon not an assault weapon under the law? It no longer meets the definition when certain items are removed. For example, removing a forward pistol grip and flash hider on a centerfire semi-automatic rifle, while adding another type of grip and a fixed stock , turns the gun from illegal to legal. These purely cosmetic changes are cheap and easy.
The bill requires registration for all current owners of such weapons. Failure to register is a felony. Gun rights proponents predict a very low registration rate, if the example of other states is any indication. Back in 2013, New York's Secure Ammunition and Firearms Enforcement (SAFE) Act – developed in response to the Sandy Hook, Connecticut school shooting – banned the sale and possession of almost all assault-style weapons. Gun owners already in possession of such weapons were allowed to keep them, but only if registering them with the state. As of mid-2016, fewer than 45,000 of these weapons were registered in New York, while it is likely that a least one million residents of the Empire State owned such guns. That means there are hundreds of thousands of gun owners in one state alone now breaking the law, and it's probable that California will surpass those numbers.
The Past is Prologue
California's new assault weapons ban really isn't new – the federal government passed a similar ban in 1994. That legislation prohibited selling weapons with specific features, such as those usually found on AK and AR rifles. After the 1994 ban, gun sales soared, as manufacturers modified weapons to meet compliance standards. Odds are good that 23 years later, the same scenario will unfold.
Let's not forget that California enacted an assault weapons ban in 1989, the first such legislation in the country. That ban included specific brands of guns, although the law was later amended to cover characteristics. It wasn't exactly a stroke of genius on the part of manufacturers to simply rename their products. While gun owners possessing such weapons prior to the ban could keep them if registering with the state, they could not sell or give away these guns. Doing so is a felony. The compliance rate for the 27-year old law has been pretty poor – it's ludicrous for anyone to think it will improve in 2017.
What's the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Facing criminal trouble in California? Call us at Tully-Weiss for your best defense.