In July 2000 the state of California passed SB 15 requiring all handguns to be submitted for and pass certain safety testing before that gun could be sold in the state.
While the SB 15 bill was passed, signed into law, and then enacted in 2000, a form of the original bill (AB 1848) was proposed as early as 1992, where the California Senate Judiciary Committee heard the bill, but did not vote on it. Essentially, it just died in committee. It was reintroduced as SB 1118 in 1995, where it, again, never made it out of committee. A year later, the bill had gained traction and was reintroduced and passed as SB 933, but was later killed by the Public Safety Committee in the State Assembly. In 1997 and 1998 the bill had gained enough support in the State Assembly and State Senate to be passed, first as SB 500 in 1997 and then as SB 1500 in 1998, however, both bills were vetoed by then Governor Pete Wilson. Grey Davis had replaced Governor Wilson by 1999, and eagerly signed the legislation into law in August of that year. It was then known as “SB 15: The California Unsafe Handguns Act” and had been authored by Senator Richard Polanco of Los Angeles who referred to the bill as “a common sense, responsible gun law.”
The bill essentially made the manufacture, sale, or transfer of “unsafe handguns” illegal in California. It defined “not unsafe” as follows:
- The handgun must have a “positive manually operated safety device”
- The handgun must meet specific drop test safety requirements
- The gun must meet specific firing requirements defined in the law
- If a revolver, the gun must have a manual safety device to prevent the hammer from making contact with the primer.
The bill did this by requiring the following:
- Prevented the manufacture, sale, or transfer of “unsafe handguns”
- Made the sale of “unsafe” guns a misdemeanor punishable by 1 year in jail
- Set the requirements of a “safety test” and a “drop safety” test
- Force the manufacturer of any firearms for sale in California to submit a statement ensuring that their guns are not “unsafe” by the definition in the law and required independent testing to ensure that was the case
- Required the DOJ to certify laboratories approved for completing these “safety tests”
- Required the DOJ to establish a roster of handguns approved by these laboratories as “not unsafe”
- Made it illegal to sell or manufacture a gun that was not on this roster
- Set up substantial fees for the testing and for submitting a gun to the roster and maintaining that gun on the roster
- Exempted private party transfers of used guns from these requirements
The road to slavery is paved with “reasonable people” proposing “common sense” legislation. As so often happens with “common sense, responsible gun laws,” what started out as a requirement for drop testing has grown into something much more complicated and restrictive for gun manufacturers and would-be gun buyers. In 2003 and 2008 additional “safety” requirements were added in order for a gun to be certified as “not unsafe.”
Those changes included:
- In 2006, SB 489 (originally passed in 2003) required additional “safety features” such as loaded chamber indicators and magazine disconnects on all semi-automatic handguns added to the roster.
- In 2013 AB 1471 (originally passed in 2008) now requires a technology called microstamping on any handgun in order for it to be added to the roster. “Microstamping” is a small stamp containing the serial number (or other unique identifier) of the individual firearm placed on the head of the firing pin. When the firing pin strikes the primer it leaves the indentation of the serial number on the spent casing. Think of it as a license plate added to each spent round.
It is important to understand that only models of guns added to the roster after 2006 and 2013 must comply with the updated requirements of SBs 489 and 1471. Gun models added to the roster before those dates do not need those additional “safety” features. This is why Gen 3 Glocks are sold in California without magazine disconnects, but a Sig P229 is required to have those features.
How “Gun Safety” Became a Gun Ban
Unfortunately, microstamping is a technology that doesn’t exist outside of the laboratory environment. In addition, all gun manufactures have said they have no intention of producing guns containing this technology as it is expensive, ineffective, and easily circumvented. As such, AB 1471 essentially eliminates any handgun not on the roster before January 1, 2013 from ever being added to the roster. As of 2013 there were 1,179 models of handguns on the roster.
An average of 125 guns fall off the roster each year (see Figure 1 below). Gun manufacturers update their models just as car companies generally update their cars with new features or additional options packages each year. When gun companies update these models it often results in that model needing to be recertified. However, since the gun does not include microstamping, it cannot be re-submitted to the roster. Something as simple as changing the grip or the color on a gun model could result in it being expelled from sale in California. Since no guns can be added to the roster and we lose about 125 guns from the roster each year through natural attrition, there will essentially be no handguns for sale in California around the year 2023. One might suggest that was Sacramento’s plan all along.
After AB 1417 went into effect in January 2013, The Calguns Foundation, Second Amendment Foundation and 4 other plaintiffs filed suit against the California DOJ in a case now titled “Peña vs. Lindley”. The Peña case was first heard on December 17, 2013. In March of 2015 a trial judge ruled that the requirements of California’s Unsafe Handguns Act DID NOT violate the second amendment. The decision has been appealed and is currently waiting to be heard by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. It generally takes 6 to 8 years for these cases to wind their way through the court system and end up at the Supreme Court of the United States, so California gun owners should not hold their breath on the roster going away any time soon.
Regardless of how one might feel about the handgun roster, it is (at the very least) a unique tool for enacting gun control under the guise of “gun safety.” This is important to understand, because gun control advocates have spent the last couple of years, not to mention millions of dollars, rebranding their “gun control” efforts into “gun safety” campaigns. This is in much the same way as “global warming” has been rebranded as “climate change.” As their focus groups and polling have told them the public simply does not support “gun control,” they just change the name and continue pushing for the same restrictions. This allows them to push radical agendas under innocuous language and at the same time paint their opponents as extremists in their own right. Because, after all, who can argue with gun safety, right? Don’t we all want people to be safe with their guns? The California handgun roster is a perfect example of how these “gun safety” efforts can devolve into the de facto banning of all guns.
While residents of the state of California fight to regain their basic civil rights, those in the rest of the country should beware of “gun control” wolves posing in “gun safety” clothing. Remember, Sheepdogs Need Sharp Teeth.