Assault Weapon Classification: “So, What Does This Mean for Me?”

First, all the dopey caveats; you are responsible for knowing the law and I am not a lawyer, nor is any of the below legal advice. I welcome corrections if you find any of the below to be inaccurate. This is all new so uncertainty is everywhere. The below is based on my reading of the law. The DOJ may interpret and enforce it differently than it is written. I will update in future articles as we learn more from the DOJ.

Governor Brown signed 5 gun control laws on Friday morning, July 2nd (Independence Weekend, oh the irony). This article will address only one of those 5 bills; the re-defining of assault weapons and registration requirement (SB 880/ AB 1135). I will discuss what the other 4 bills mean in a separate post later this week. It just get’s too long to discuss all of them in a single article.

Since Friday morning, our little gun shop has received hundreds and hundreds of phone calls and customers asking the same question, “What the F*** just happened and what does it mean for me?”. This article is meant to answer that question.

What do SB 880 and AB 1135 do?

California has been trying to eliminate and/or criminalize possession of AR and AK style rifles for 17 years. Since June 1, 1989 California has defined an “assault weapon” as any semiautomatic centerfire rifle with any of the following evil features (oversimplified for relevance and brevity):

  • Pistol grip
  • Forward pistol grip
  • Adjustable stock
  • Flash suppressor
  • Removable magazine

For the remainder of this article I will refer to the above list as “evil features”. The last point on this list, “Removable Magazine,” is the key. For 15 years, California AR and AK owners have been able to use a bullet button to avoid the classification of “assault weapon.” Since the bullet button required a tool to drop the mag, it did not qualify as a “removable magazine.” Instead it was considered to be a “fixed magazine.” Since the rifle had a “fixed magazine” it was not an assault weapon. SB 880/ AB 1135 redefine a “fixed magazine” to be something that “cannot be removed without disassembly of the firearm action.” Since bullet buttons don’t require the disassembly of the firearm action, even a rifle with a bullet button installed is now an “assault weapon.” Rifles with a bullet button are now considered to have a “removable magazine.” Basically, we’ve all be using the bullet button loophole in the law to keep our rifles legal and the government just closed that loophole.

You may not purchase a rifle (even a stripped lower) after January 1, 2017 that has any of the above evil features. After January 1, 2017 you cannot buy a rifle with evil features from either a dealer or a private party. You must also register any “assault weapon” you own with the CAL DOJ BEFORE January 1, 2018. You are guilty of a felony if you do not register your weapon with CAL DOJ before this time. Registration of an assault weapon will be done via a website and require a fee of $20. The fee is, of course, subject to change.

You can only register weapons you owned prior to January 1, 2017 as taking possession of an “assault weapon” after this time is illegal.

What does owning an “assault weapon” mean?

If you register your gun as an assault weapon, there are draconian limitations on how you own and transport the gun. You can never sell, give, lend, or trade an assault weapon to another person. Nor can you hand down an “assault weapon” to your spouse, children, or grandchildren. If you move out of the state, you cannot move back into the state with your guns.

What happens to my guns when I die?

When you die, your “assault weapon” essentially dies with you. When you die, your guns will generally be handed down by bequest or by succession, usually to your spouse or children. Your spouse or child (or whoever) has no more than 90 days to send the guns out of state, render them permanently inoperable, or to turn them over to law enforcement for destruction. If your spouse or child has possession of the guns 90 days after your death, they have committed a felony punishable by no more than 1 year in county jail and substantial fines.

Can I lend my gun to my friend so he can go hunting for the day?

No. You can never lend your registered “assault weapon” to someone else. If you loan your rifle to a friend, neighbor, co-worker, etc. for any reason, you have both committed a felony punishable by up to one year in county jail. The gun is not allowed to be out of your possession. You can only let a friend use your gun if you are in immediate proximity to the gun at all times. That means, if you stay in one tree stand and your friend drives 300 yards up the road to the next hide and posts up with your gun, you have both committed a felony.

When does this go into affect?

You may not purchase a AR with any of the evil features or a stripped lower that will contain evil features after January 1, 2017. You must register any gun with evil features with the Cal DOJ and pay the fee before January 1, 2018. If you do not register the gun or remove the features, you are guilty of a felony.

Can I avoid registering my gun as an “assault weapon”?

You can do either of two things to your gun to avoid the classification of “assault weapon.” You do not need to do both, just one.

First, you can install a device that requires you to disassemble the action in order to remove the mag/ reload. Not very fun to shoot, but it will work. It just so happens that Darin Prince up at North County Firearms in San Marcos has invented just such a device. The Bullet Button Reloaded breaks the gun open at the pivot pin to drop the mag. I will have more on this in the next few days and will post another article as soon as I have this information. Stay tuned.

Second, you can remove all evil features from your gun. You’ll have to use a “shark fin” grip instead of a pistol grip. This is a grip that prevents your thumb from wrapping around the grip. If you have a flash hider, you will need to replace it with a compensator. If you have a compensator that has a flash hider on the end (like the VG6 Epsilon), you’ll need to replace it with one that doesn’t (like the VG6 Gamma). Your adjustable carbine stock must be replaced with a non-adjustable rifle stock or permanently pinned in place. You cannot have a forward grip. If you remove all of the evil features from your gun, then you can have a standard mag release. No more bullet buttons if you go this route.

What does “Featureless” mean?

Featureless means no evil features. See the paragraph above. If you have a featureless rifle then you do not need to register it as an “assault weapon.” However, after January 1, 2018 a featureless rifle can never again be turned back into a rife that contains any of the evil features. Once featureless, the rifle is forever featureless.

What About AR Pistols?

AR pistols have the same requirements as AR rifles, with a few kickers just to make you even angrier. While a rifle simply needs to have a compensator instead of a flash hider, a pistol is prevented from having “a threaded barrel, capable of accepting a flash suppressor…” This means that your AR pistol must have a compensator that is permanently pinned and welded to the barrel. Your AR pistol is an “assault weapon” as of January 1, 2017 and must be registered with the Cal DOJ before January 1, 2018. You can make an AR pistol featureless or use a crack action bullet button as described to avoid registering.

What about 80% Lowers?

Same as above. Your AR rifle or AR pistol built on an 80% is an “assault weapon” if it contains any of the evil features described above. If you wish to keep those evil features on your gun, then you are required to serialize it and register it with the Cal DOJ before January 1, 2018. If you make it featureless, then you are fine.

Does this mean I can remove my bullet button and use a standard “free state” mag release?

Yes. Your AR or AK style gun is classified as an “assault weapon” regardless if you are using a bullet button, so why not switch it to having a free-state mag release? Understand, you MUST register your gun with the DOJ as an “assault weapon” before you do this. If you have a free-state mag release and your gun is not registered as an “assault weapon”, then you are guilty of a felony.

What about my bolt action gun?
This applies to semi-auto guns only. Bolt action rifles are not affected.

What about my 22lr caliber rifles?

The law specifies “centerfire” guns. 22lr caliber guns and other rimfire guns are not affected.

What about my Glock/ 1911, etc. pistol?

SB 880/ AB 1135 define an assault pistol (I swear I didn’t make up that term) as having “A shroud that is attached to, or partially or completely encircles, the barrel that allows the bearer to fire the weapon without burning the bearer’s hand, except a slide that encloses the barrel.“ That basically means an AR-style handguard. Handgun slides like you find on a Glock are exempted. Bottom line, this doesn’t affect your semi-auto 1911/ Glock-style handguns.

Can I still purchase stripped lowers after January 1, 2017?

Yes. You can still purchase stripped lowers after January 1, 2017, however, they must NEVER have an evil feature attached to them. All lowers and rifles purchased after January 1, 2017 MUST be built as featureless rifles.

Can I sell my rifle after January 1, 2017?

No. If it contains any of the evil features OR is registered as an “assault weapon”, then you cannot ever sell, trade, lend, transfer, donate, or pass it down. That rifle is attached to you forever and dies with you. You cannot sell an “assault weapon”.

Can I turn my “assault weapon” into a featureless gun to sell it?

Yes. You can turn your registered “assault weapon” into a featureless gun and sell, trade, transfer, or pass it down. However, you must “DE-REGISTER” the gun with the DOJ. There is a process for DE-registering the gun. Once the gun is De-registered and made featureless, then it cannot ever be turned back into an “assault weapon.” It must remain featureless forever.

What if I live out of state and am moving to California. Can I bring my rifle with me?

No. California strictly forbids the import of “assault weapons.” If you bring your gun into California after January 1, 2017 then you are a felon the moment you cross the state line. After January 1, 2017 all rifles must be made featureless before they come into the state.

The only exception to this is for military personnel being transferred to the state of California on orders. If you are ordered to California, then you may bring your “assault weapons” with you, but you must register them with the Cal DOJ and then all of the other rules regarding sale, transfer, lending, inheriting, etc. apply. Military personnel on orders are the only people who can register an assault weapon after January 1, 2018.

I hope the above helps. As always I remain available to answer questions. Questions/ Comments can be posted below or on Facebook.