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California: The NRA Intends to File Legal Challenge if Governor Brown Signs Unconstitutional Semi-Automatic Firearm Ban into Law

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

There are currently several gun control bills sitting on Governor Brown’s desk that he will either veto or allow to become law by October 13, 2013. Our Right to Keep and Bear Arms has never been as seriously threatened in California as it is today. After years of incrementally adopting gun control measures, this year the Legislature decided to propose new laws adopting everything on the gun ban lobby’s wish list. Many of those bills were successfully opposed by the NRA and died in the Legislature, but unfortunately some did not.

These bills pending before the governor include a ban on lead ammunition for hunting and a limit on how many handguns one can transfer in a year. California gun owners should review the NRA’s Action Alert to learn more about the bills and should contact the Governor to request vetoes of all these gun control bills.

Perhaps the worst of the worst of the lot is Senate Bill 374 (“SB 374"), which would make unprecedented changes to California’s already unjust and byzantine “assault weapon” law. Under current California law, these firearms can only be possessed if they are properly registered, can only be used for limited purposes, and, with few exceptions, cannot be transferred to anyone in the state. SB 374 would drastically expand the definition of “assault weapon” to include any “semi-automatic rifle that does not have a fixed magazine with the capacity to accept no more than ten rounds.” (Yes, that quote contains a double negative, and no, we have no idea what that means). The bill defines a fixed magazine as “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.”

Under SB 374, all rifles meeting this description must be registered as “assault weapons” by July 1, 2015. It is practically impossible to know which firearms meet the new definition of “assault weapon,” however, as “disassembly of the firearm action” is undefined and nobody (least of all the legislators who voted for it) knows what it means, or for that matter even what a firearm “action” actually is.  Millions of semi-automatic rifles have magazines that can be removed with the push of a button, and, at a minimum, those will likely be considered “assault weapons” under SB 374.  That classification would include classic hunting rifles like the Remington Woodsmaster, Browning BAR, and the Ruger 99/44, among many others.

SB 374 will restrict the use and ban the transfer of millions of commonly owned and constitutionally protected semi-automatic, center-fire rifles, making those rifles completely unavailable to future gun owners. Possession of currently owned rifles meeting the new definition will remain legal, but only for those who register their firearms in time and limit their use of the firearms to the specific activities California permits. Those who don’t register and limit their use of those guns will become felons.

Unlike with previous registration requirements, there is no planned public education campaign to notify people about the new law and its mandates. So the tens of thousands of firearm owners who do not hear about or understand SB 374 are out of luck if found with an unregistered firearm that falls under the new definition of “assault weapon.” And even those who do register their firearms on time will be precluded from ever selling them or passing them down to their children or grandchildren.

By banning millions of the most common hunting, sporting, and self-defense rifles in existence, SB 374 is in direct conflict with the U.S. Supreme Court’s Heller decision.  In Heller, the Court made it clear that arms “typically possessed by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes” or those “in common use” are constitutionally protected.

If SB 374 is signed by the Governor, the NRA intends to immediately file suit challenging this unconstitutional law.  To help with that effort, please consider making a donation to the NRA Legal Action Project here

This lawsuit would join previous NRA legal challenges in California such as our suit against AB 962, the “handgun ammunition” regulatory scheme passed in 2009 in the Parker v. California case; our suit against the California Department of Justice over SB 819, which authorized misuse of the fees firearms purchasers are required to pay in Bauer v. Harris; and our challenge to SB 140, which stole $24 million from the firearm-purchaser-fee account and gave it to DOJ for political projects. To learn more about additional actions the NRA’s legal team is taking on behalf of California gun owners, click here.

Second Amendment supporters should also be careful about supporting litigation efforts promised by other individuals and groups without access to the necessary funding, relationships, firearm experts and experienced lawyers on the NRA’s California and national legal teams. Our network of esteemed civil rights attorneys and scholars has the resources, skill and expertise to maximize the potential for victory, along with a track record of challenging anti-gun legislation with positive results.

Please donate to the NRA Legal Action Project today!

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Established in 1975, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) is the "lobbying" arm of the National Rifle Association of America. ILA is responsible for preserving the right of all law-abiding individuals in the legislative, political, and legal arenas, to purchase, possess and use firearms for legitimate purposes as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.