Conscientious gun manufacturers often refine and improve their products so that consumers get the best and most reliable and safest products available on the market. Even as the manufacturer's model numbers remain unchanged, manufacturers continue to make minor changes to their existing models as new technology or manufacturing processes become available.
Now, ironically, California's “Unsafe Handgun Act” is making it impossible for licensed gun retailers to sell these refined, improved and more reliable pistols. Even though the models have passed the performance tests that California law imposes, the California regulators have taken the position that even minor changes trigger the need for these guns to be retested and re-certified for sale. Since last year, however, no gun can be certified for sale in California unless it incorporates a “microstamping” process. None of these improved firearms do, and no new guns from any major manufacturer will. To view NSSF’s background paper on microstamping, please click HERE. As a result, a large number of handguns have been delisted and can no longer be sold by retailers in California.
The NRA and its allies are taking action to stop this hypocrisy of refusing to certify handguns that have been made better. NRA members and concerned gun owners have been asking about the situation. Here's the latest.
California’s "Unsafe Handgun" Scheme
Since January 1, 2001, California's so called “unsafe handgun” law has mandated that before a handgun can be sold in California it must be listed on the Roster of Handguns Certified for Sale (the “Roster”). Originally, handguns needed to pass a drop test and other performance tests to be listed. The legislator promoting the bill, anti-gun Senator Polanco, ridiculously claimed that handguns could "blow up" so this law was necessary. Tellingly, no "blow up" test was ever imposed, suggesting this bill wasn't really about safety in the first place.
Regardless, in 2006 the law was amended to require center fire semi-automatic pistols to have a loaded chamber indicator, and a magazine disconnect safety by January 1, 2007. Firearms that pass the tests and have the required features are deemed “not to be unsafe handguns.” Pistols on the Roster before these requirements were added are “grandfathered,” meaning they do not need to meet the new requirements to stay on the Roster.
In 2007, notoriously anti-gun-owner Assembly Member Mike Feuer (now Los Angeles City Attorney) pushed a law adding a new requirement for pistols to make it onto the Roster -- microstamping. Although microstamping has nothing to do with making a firearm safer, Mr. Feuer touted his scheme as a cheap law enforcement tool. In fact, it is nothing of the kind. Nonetheless, the law passed.
Implementation of the microstamping requirement was postponed subject to the required certification by the California Attorney General that the microstamping process technology was available to manufacturers and was not encumbered by a patent. Attorney General (now Governor) Jerry Brown did not certify that microstamping was available during his tenure. But on May 17, 2013 Attorney General Kamala Harris certified that microstamping was available. The DOJ alert and certification can be read HERE. Again, pistols that were already on the Roster were “grandfathered” and did not need to meet the microstamping requirement. But any new pistol seeking to be certified or re-certified, for sale now needs to have microstamping.
The problem is that California interprets the Unsafe Handgun Act as requiring that any change to a handgun, unless purely cosmetic, means that the handgun must be retested as if it was just invented before it can be certified for sale. So if a manufacturer makes a minor change to a part, how a part is made, what a part is made out of, or any non-cosmetic change, then the firearm is considered a “new” firearm and needs to be certified separately to be listed on the Roster.
So as of May 17, 2013, if a change is made to a pistol it cannot remain on the Roster, and to get back on the Roster it must incorporate the microstamping process.
As a practical matter, this means that manufacturers cannot modify and improve their pistols in any way. They cannot even make their current models more reliable and safer, more durable, less expensive, or more advanced, unless they include the microstamping technology - a flawed technology that manufacturers cannot comply with because it does not work nor does it exist. So, ironically, the law forces California retailers to sell less refined and potentially less safe firearms--all supposedly in the name of safety.
The Microstamping Fraud
Proponents of the microstamping bill falsely claimed that the additional cost of microstamping “would be $0.50 to $2 a gun.” You can read the history of this bill and information presented to the Legislature at the California Legislative Information website HERE. But while the actual microscopic etching process may itself be cheap, the real cost of incorporating microstamping into the manufacturing process is not.
Firearms are typically manufactured on a type of modern assembly line, with specific parts largely interchangeable. Microstamped firing pins or other microstamped parts require a special batch production. These special microstamped parts must be segregated from the rest of the firearm parts of the same kind. The special batch parts need to be matched to the specific firearm that each part is individually made for. All of this time-intensive work requires supervision and manufacturing technology that doesn't exist, to say nothing of the added complexity in the planning, procurement, logistics, and warehousing aspects of the manufacturing process.
Additionally, the microstamping process itself is not a viable technology. A U.C. Davis study shows the flaws with this process. NSSF’s summary of the study may be found HERE and the full study can be found HERE. Even the patent holder has acknowledged in a 2012 study that the concept of microstamping requires further study and should not be mandated. Click HERE to view the 2012 AFTE Journal article.
The consequences of California’s microstamping mandate are already being felt. Ruger has confirmed that it is being largely forced out of the California market as a result. The statement from Ruger CEO can be found HERE. Smith & Wesson has made a similar announcement. An article on that announcement can be read HERE. Since the microstamping mandate kicked in last May, over 100 handguns have fallen off the Roster. The list of De-Certified Handgun Models can be found HERE. Even more disturbing, the list of “Newly Added Handgun Models” has been blank for over a month, which can be reviewed HERE.
NRA and others are taking action. Our representatives are working with regulators to seek a policy change that would allow improved firearms to get back on the Roster. Legislation is also in the works that would fix this problem.
Litigation has already been filed, and more lawsuits are likely. On January 9, 2014, NSSF filed a law suit challenging California’s microstamping scheme. A copy of the press release containing a link to the complaint can be found HERE. The microstamping scheme has now resulted in two costly law suits that will cost California tax dollars to defend. The NRA’s lawyers are monitoring these suits and preparing a new one if necessary to protect the interests of California consumers.
The NRA has numerous active legal challenges to a number of current California firearm laws, and more are planned. If you would like to assist in our fight against this attack on gun owners’ rights in California, please donate to the NRA Legal Action Project HERE. Your donation will be used for the benefit of Californians. For a summary of the many actions the NRA legal team has taken or is currently taking on behalf of California gun owners, click HERE.