California’s Proposed Ban on Semiautomatic Rifles

The State of California’s 2013 legislative session started with a host of anti-gun bills that ran the gamut from banning all forms of lead ammunition to confiscation of legally owned semiautomatic rifles and handguns. Of the 30 bills that were initially proposed, 12 survived both houses of the legislature and are awaiting Governor Jerry Brown’s signature or veto. Of those bills, one of the most onerous is the ban on semiautomatic rifles which can accept a detachable magazine: SB374.

California was one of the first states in the nation to ban so-called assault weapons. The original version passed in 1989 as the Roberti-Roos Assault Weapon Control Act which banned over 32 rifles, handguns and shotguns by name. A registration period was opened and gun owners were given a time limit to register these firearms or remove them from the state. The ban was followed up in 1999 by additional legislation which listed the names of other manufacturers and adopted the “feature list” of the 1994 Federal Assault Weapon Ban by making cosmetic features such as pistol grips, folding stocks and threaded barrels illegal on a semiautomatic firearm. A registration period was opened and gun owners had to remove the firearms from the state, register them or make them compliant with the new restrictions.

SB374 takes these provisions a step further by classifying any semiautomatic centerfire rifle that can accept a detachable magazine as an assault weapon that needs to be registered, configured to accept a fixed magazine or removed from the state.
Governor Brown has yet to sign or veto this legislation which has passed both houses of the state’s legislature. He has given no direct indication as to his intent and has neither gone on the record as a friend to gun control, nor a proponent of gun rights.

If the bill is signed and passed, the state is planning on opening a registration period commencing July 1, 2014. Gun owners who wish to register these types of firearms will have to prove that they were purchased between January 2001 and January 2014 and pay a fee between $15 and $20 in order to comply with the law.

This bill is directly targeting hunting and sporting rifles such as the Springfield Armory M1A, Ruger Mini-14, Remington 742 and the M1 Carbine among others. These rifles were largely exempt from the previous bans due to a lack of a pistol grip or folding stock. In certain instances minor cosmetic modifications were made to these rifles to make them compliant with the legislation.

The impact on dealers will be that these types of rifles will no longer be allowed to be offered for sale in the Golden State. As has followed with the previous bans, owners of these rifles will not be allowed to sell or transfer them within the state even after they are registered. The bans in the past have precluded heirs from registering these types of firearms in the event of the owner’s death. The only legal remedy being to transfer the firearms out of state through a California based FFL who holds a California Assault Weapons Dealer Permit.

Troubling points of the legislation from a compliance standpoint includes that the letter of the law contains no provision to register semiautomatic rifles which were purchased prior to 2001. This includes over 100 years’ worth of inventory of rifles including curio and relic types that were produced and transferred within California’s borders since 1898.

Another unanswered question is if the ban on certain cosmetic features will pertain to these newly registered rifles. Logic would dictate that once the rifle is registered it would be in the same category as other registered assault weapons and the owner would be free to add pistol grips to AR-15 type rifles which do not have one or flash suppressors to M1As that have a muzzle brake.

The answers to these will be revealed if Governor Brown signs SB374 into law.