FPC Announces Settlement of Lawsuit Over California “Bullet Button Assault Weapon” “Registration Disasters”

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SACRAMENTO, CA (March 18, 2021) — Today, Firearms Policy Coalition (FPC)  announced a major settlement agreement, inclusive of an injunction and consent decree, with California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and the California Department of Justice (DOJ) in Sharp v. Becerra, a federal due process lawsuit that challenged the State’s implementation and enforcement of “assault weapons” laws passed in 2016, including “registration disasters” such as failed DOJ systems. The settlement agreement and injunction can be viewed at FPCLegal.org, and a summary of the terms can be found below.

The case, filed in July 2018, claimed that the DOJ’s problem-riddled “bullet button assault weapon” registration system, and failures to perform many legal duties, subjected them to serious criminal liability and violated their constitutional rights. The plaintiffs were represented by attorneys George M. Lee and Raymond M. DiGuiseppe, as well as Bradley Benbrook and Stephen Duvernay. 

FPC is also litigating a broad Second Amendment challenge to California’s ban on so-called “assault weapons” in Miller v. Becerra before Federal District Court Judge Roger T. Benitez. That case has recently concluded a trial on the merits as well as post-trial briefing, and is now pending the Court’s final decision and order. More information on that case can be found at AssaultWeaponLawsuit.com.

“With this important agreement to protect the rights, liberty, and property of California gun owners behind us, we now look forward to striking down the State’s ban on so-called ‘assault weapons’ and restoring Second Amendment rights through our Miller lawsuit, other actives cases, and future litigation,” said FPC’s Senior Director of Legal Operations, Adam Kraut. “We are grateful to the plaintiffs for their participation in this case and our extraordinary legal counsel for their hard work reaching this positive conclusion.”

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“We’ve always believed that this was about giving gun owners a reasonable opportunity to comply with the law and not be made felons at the stroke of midnight because the State couldn’t operate a website,” noted George M. Lee. “With the Court’s approval, the injunction will afford significant legal protections for possibly tens of thousands of gun owners.”

“Today we claim long overdue and much deserved justice for the gun owners transformed into felons overnight when they were unable to comply with the statutes before the deadline because of the State’s defective and inadequate registration system,” commented Raymond M. DiGuiseppe. 

KEY SETTLEMENT TERMS & CONDITIONS

  • The Agreement is effective immediately upon its approval by the U.S. District Court and upon the approval and entry of the Stipulated Injunction and Consent Decree.
  • DOJ will pay the plaintiffs $151,821.42 for attorneys’ fees and costs.
  • DOJ will re-open “assault weapon” registrations under Penal Code section 30900(b) for individuals who possessed eligible firearms and started the process of submitting applications to the Department of Justice Bureau of Firearms before July 1, 2018, but who were unable to complete the submission process because of technical difficulties.
  • DOJ will implement a public Notice Period for at least 120 days from the date that this stipulated injunction is entered by the Court.
  • After the notice period, DOJ will establish a web page for new eligible registrations for a period of 90 days (the “Registration Period”).
  • To begin the Notice Period, DOJ will: 

    • Announce and feature the re-opened Registration Period on the Bureau of Firearms website.
    • Provide notice of the re-opened Registration Period to other known firearms rights groups and law firms.
    • Provide notice of the re-opened Registration Period to every person that called or emailed them to complain about not being able to register before or after the original deadline of July 1, 2018 if contact information is available. 
    • Conduct a public outreach campaign (Internet and traditional news) to notify the public about the re-opened Registration Period.
  • DOJ will accept paper registration applications postmarked through the last day of the Registration Period.
  • The Court will retain jurisdiction to enforce the terms of the Agreement and the Stipulated Injunction.
  • If the settlement and stipulated injunction is approved by the Court, the following will apply:

    • For the duration of the Notice Period and the Registration Period, the Department will abstain from prosecuting individuals for the charge of possession of an unregistered assault weapon under Penal Code sections 30600 or 30605 if they satisfy the Registration Requirements by the end of the Registration Period.
    • Persons eligible to register under the Registration Requirements will be accorded protection under Penal Code section 30680 and may raise their eligibility as an affirmative defense to any and all prosecutions throughout this State for which the valid registration of an assault weapon is or may be a defense.
    • In response to any and all inquiries from law enforcement agencies pertaining to requests for information regarding the status of any assault weapon registration(s), the Department will provide information referencing this injunction providing for the Registration Period.
    • The Attorney General will inform all district attorneys’ offices, sheriffs’ offices, and other law enforcement agencies in California of this Stipulated Injunction and Consent Decree, and advise that all pending investigations and prosecutions for Penal Code sections 30600 and/or 30605 for which valid registration of an assault weapon is or may be a defense should be stayed or postponed if there is reason to believe the subject would be able to meet the Registration Requirements and register the firearms appropriately. 
    • Upon proof that a person has successfully completed the Registration Requirements, any pending investigation or prosecution as to a violation of section 30600 and/or 30605 for which valid registration of an assault weapon is a defense shall be ceased and any pending charges dismissed as to those violations.
    • Anyone who has a firearm being detained or held by a law enforcement agency, and who is not otherwise prohibited from owning or possessing firearms will not be barred from registering said firearm(s) if the person is otherwise eligible to register the firearm(s) under the Registration Requirements and can satisfy the Registration Requirements during the Registration Period.

SHARP v. BECERRA BACKGROUND

  • In 2016, through enactment of Assembly Bill 1135 and Senate Bill 880 (2015-2016 Reg. Sess.), the Legislature amended the Assault Weapons Control Act (AWCA), generally to create new “assault weapon” classifications by changing definitional terms regarding magazines for semiautomatic rifles, pistols and shotguns in California Penal Code § 30515. These changes to the law were intended to generally prohibit the new acquisition, transfer or possession of what became known as “bullet button” assault weapons.
  • Under the changed statutes, registration of the firearms (or reconfiguration into a non-“assault weapon” status) was required to be completed by July 1, 2018.
  • The DOJ’s Assault Weapon Registration Form system, operated through its California Firearms Application Reporting System (CFARS), “went live” (i.e., was made available to the public) on or about August 3, 2017.
  • Due to various technical problems with the Assault Weapon Registration Form system, the individual plaintiffs and many others around the State were unable to access the system to comply with the law even though they attempted to do so. 
  • Firearms Policy Coalition, joined by Firearms Policy Foundation, California Gun Rights Foundation (then named “The Calguns Foundation”), Second Amendment Foundation, and Madison Society Foundation, as well as the individual plaintiffs, filed suit.
  • In October 2018, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss the case.
  • Following briefing, on June 26, 2019, Federal District Court Judge Morrison C. England denied the State’s motion, allowing the case to move forward. (“Defendants’ own policies can support a finding of deliberate indifference.”)
  • The plaintiffs conducted discovery and moved the case towards trial or dispositive motions.
  • On March 17, 2021 the parties reached an agreement consistent with the plaintiffs’ claims including a stipulated injunction, and submitted it for approval to Judge England.

See also: California “Bullet-Button Assault Weapon” Registration: Key Facts & Stats About CA’s Latest Gun Control Debacle

Firearms Policy Coalition (firearmspolicy.org) is a 501(c)4 nonprofit organization. FPC’s mission is to protect and defend constitutional rights—especially the right to keep and bear arms—advance individual liberty, and restore freedom through litigation and legal action, legislative and regulatory action, education, outreach, grassroots activism, other programs. FPC Law is the nation’s largest public interest legal team focused on Second Amendment and adjacent fundamental rights including freedom of speech and due process, conducting litigation, research, scholarly publications, and amicus briefing, among other efforts.

Firearms Policy Coalition and its FPC Law team are the nation’s next-generation advocates for the right to keep and bear arms and adjacent liberties, actively litigating dozens of major lawsuits including federal Second Amendment challenges to California’s ban on “assault weapons” (Miller v. Becerra), Maryland’s ban on “assault weapons” (Bianchi v. Frosh), California’s handgun “roster” and self-manufacturing bans (Renna v. Becerra), Maryland’s firearm carry ban (Call v. Jones), New Jersey’s firearm carry ban (Bennett v. Davis), New York City’s firearms carry ban (Greco v. New York City), the federal ban on the sale of handguns and handgun ammunition by federal firearm licensees (FFLs) to adults under 21 years of age (Reese v. BATFE), and others, with dozens more cases being prepared. To follow these and other legal cases FPC is actively working on, visit the Legal Action section of FPC’s website or follow FPC on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube.

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