How California Is Starving the Availability of Lawful Handguns

How California Is Starving the Availability of Lawful Handguns
The SIG P322 is not available for civilian purchase in California. (Photo: True Pearce)

By Larry Keane

California is pulling off a vanishing act right before everyone’s eyes. The list of semiautomatic handguns available for sale there is rapidly dwindling, thanks to the state’s “Not Unsafe Handgun Roster.”

It won’t be too long before all semiautomatic handguns will be banned from sale in California – a step closer to gun control’s ultimate goal of banning lawful civilian firearm ownership. The California “Not Unsafe Handgun” law enacted in 2001 started a slow motion statewide handgun ban. The ban picked up momentum in May of 2013 when the 2007 law requiring microstamping on all new pistols became effective upon then-Attorney General Kamala Harris certifying microstamping technology was unencumbered by patent restrictions. There were 967 models available for lawful purchase when the roster was certified less than a decade ago. Today, there are under 250 available models, when different paint schemes are considered.

California Dreaming

California’s lawmakers started the process of denying citizens the ability to purchase modern semiautomatic handguns with legislation introduced in 1999. The law, introduced as SB 15, required that any handgun that is sold in the state, and capable of being concealed, must be tested by a certified laboratory and determined to be “not unsafe.” The criteria in 2001 was that every handgun had to contain three “safety” features, including an indicator that shows if a cartridge is present in the chamber, a mechanism that prevents a firearm from discharging when the magazine is removed or not present and the third is to incorporate unworkable microstamping technology.

The problem is that microstamping just doesn’t work. Microstamping is the theoretical notion that a firearm would impart an identifying code on the cartridge it expends, primarily from the firing pin on the primer. In theory, this would allow law enforcement to connect spent cartridge cases collected at crime scenes with a particular firearm by matching the identifying code.

In practice, it doesn’t work. The inventor of the technology, Todd Lizotte, who holds the sole-source patent to etch microscopic codes on the face of a firing pin, agreed that the technology wasn’t ready for widespread commercial use. Lizotte admitted that alphanumeric codes are often illegible under even perfect conditions. Electron microscopes couldn’t detect legible codes in testing. Even in laboratory settings, it would take at least 10 spent cartridges to make an “educated guess” to piece together a legible code. Third-party researchers agreed.

Facts Be Damned

It doesn’t take much to defeat microstamping. The technology can easily be negated with sandpaper or a nail file as the mark is only 25 microns (half the diameter of a human hair). Criminals already obliterate serial numbers etched into a firearm frame.

California lawmakers ignored that, passing another mandate in 2020 that every handgun must incorporate single-placement microstamping. Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a law in 2020 that reduced the marking requirement to a single location but sped up the roster. For every one handgun that would be added, three would come off.

There have been no new models added to the roster since 2013, thanks to this mandate and the state’s interpretation that even minor cosmetic changes constitute a new model requiring microstamping. The list of handguns available for sale, however, has shrunken considerably – by nearly 75 percent. It will only pick up speed. Starting in July, the requirement for three handguns to come off the list goes into effect.

The trifecta of an unworkable requirement, a self-defeating mandate and a shrinking pool of commercially-available firearms means Californians are witnessing a slow motion ban on an entire class of firearms before their very eyes.

Larry Keane is Senior Vice President of Government and Public Affairs and General Counsel for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the firearms industry trade association.

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  • John May 6, 2022, 12:18 pm

    The current anti personal gun dictator is has killed many businesses with his governing by decree, keeping the state under emergency declaration so he can do what he wants or profits from. He is a puppet of the Getty family.
    According to one of his recent mandates people cannot put food waste in the trash. I suppose he will put a cop on every garbage truck next. I wonder what they do with food waste at his restaurant?
    This country is becoming a sneaky version of Russia.

  • AK May 6, 2022, 12:02 pm

    In other words, Kali has accomplished in one generation what they could not back in the 80’s when they tried to pass an outright handgun ban by referendum. Gotta hand it to those long-view Maoists.

    This is kinda like the old poll tax and test to keep minorities from voting.

  • Nicholas May 6, 2022, 8:17 am

    The unfortunate aspect to this is that the conspirators in this attempt to ban the private ownership of guns are also in the community that call themselves pro-2nd. Well folks, the 2nd amendment has 27 words in it, not just the last 14.
    The purpose of the amendment as the S. Ct. ruled long before Heller was to point to the original Constitution wherein the Duty to keep and bear arms is Law, and that Duty protects the right of all to keep and bear arms.
    There is, shockingly, no recognition, other than by a very few, that the clauses in the original Constitution even exist. Even Justice Scalia, who wrote Heller wasn’t aware. I nearly exploded when I heard him state that nowhere else in the Constitution does this exist.
    Sadly, when all is said and done, it will be the pro-2nd community that drives the nails into the coffin because of the failure to understand the Law, and to admit they’ve been duped by a bunch of charlatan’s. There is no way in the world that an “individual” can protect a right from a government bent on its destruction. That is why, the Framers of the Constitution placed Militia with the only recognized authority “to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections, and repel Invasions.”
    If you don’t want to apply the Law as it was written, then don’t expect that your children will maintain those rights.

    • Chris Nichols May 6, 2022, 11:55 am

      How fortunate we are to have an eminent internet Constitutional Law scholar who is better versed on the Constitution and pertinent Supreme Court rulings than the late Justice Scalia!

    • John Boutwell May 6, 2022, 1:17 pm

      Nick, I hope you don’t talk as much as you write because everyone will know you are stupid.

  • Mark N. May 5, 2022, 1:11 am

    Come on, Larry. You have resources available to you and can do a better job and not get so much wrong.
    Changes to Roster requirements have been incremental. The first law only mandated lab testing for safety. Then they added a requirement of a loaded chamber indicator. Still not satisfied, a mag disconnect and a manual external safety (other than a back strap safety or trigger safety a la Glock) were also added. All older models were grandfathered in–as long as they were produced. Only new models were required to comply with each new mandate (which is why we still have Gen III Glocks but nothing newer).

    The microstamping mandate was added in 2010 or 2011, with the caveat that it would not take effect until technology was generally available that would put a microstamp in two locations on the spent casing, as declared by the State Attorney General. There was an experimental technology that stamped it ONE place (on the primer) and when Kamala Harris wanted to declare the technology generall y available (i.e., unencumbered by a patent) the inventor allowed the patent to lapse. A gun rights group picked up the patent, which then forced the inventor to waive his patent, upon which Harris declared the law to be in effect as to new models.

    That started ANOTHER fight was to what constituted a “new” model. Several manufacturers replaced some parts of a rostered firearm with parts manufactured by a different method (MIM vs cast, for example) and were held by the AG to be introducing a “new” firearm. The only thing that could be changed was the color (stainless/blued/etc.) and the grips. Challenges to the microstamping law were unsuccessful and other features of roster restrictions were upheld by the Ninth Circuit.

    The “add one remove three” is a law of recent vintage (1/1/21), and at least initially the district court concluded that even under intermediate scrutiny, Plaintiffs had plead a valid claim of unconstitutionality. The case is still pending in the district court, defendants having filed a motion to dismiss three weeks ago.

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