Another California gun law has been blocked in court

Gun Rights

A decade-old California law requiring newly sold handguns to include equipment enabling the owner to know whether the gun is loaded and preventing accidental firings, and allowing police to trace cartridges from crime scenes, violates the constitutional right of self-defense because no current models have all those features, a federal judge ruled Monday.

“These regulations are having a devastating impact on Californians’ ability to acquire and use new, state-of-the-art handguns,” U.S. District Judge Cormac Carney of Santa Ana said in a ruling ordering the state to halt enforcement of the law. Attorney General Rob Bonta, who is defending the law in court, said Carney agreed to delay his injunction for 14 days to give the state time to appeal and request a further stay from a federal appeals court.

As enacted in 2007, the law required new semiautomatic handguns, those that can be fired repeatedly without reloading, to contain a chamber load indicator, which says whether the chamber is fully loaded, and a magazine disconnect mechanism, which prevents firing if the gun magazine is not fully inserted. In 2013, lawmakers required the guns to have micro-stamping technology, imprinting the gun’s model and serial number on each fired cartridge to help officers identify the weapon at a crime scene.

Gun manufacturers say no existing models of handguns meet California’s standards and that compliance would be expensive and perhaps impossible. The state Supreme Court rejected a gun group’s lawsuit in 2018, saying the manufacturers would have to do their best to comply with the law and no one’s rights were being violated.

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But Carney, in a suit by gun owners and the California Rifle & Pistol Association, said the law violates the right to self-defense because it does not allow current models of firearms to be bought or sold in California. 

Californians can still buy those weapons in other states and bring them here, but otherwise they can legally purchase only firearms that were manufactured before the law took effect, Carney said. Gun stores and private gun shows, which are also covered by the state law, can sell those weapons legally.

“Californians have the constitutional right to acquire and use state-of-the-art handguns to protect themselves,” the judge wrote. “They should not be forced to settle for decade-old models of handguns to ensure that they remain safe inside or outside the home.”

He said few handguns manufactured since 2007 have chamber load indicators and magazine disconnect mechanisms, and no models produced since 2013 have all three features required by the California law.

Disputing the state’s argument that the law promotes safety, Carney said California still allows the sale of handguns manufactured before the law took effect, even though they would be considered “unsafe” under the law’s standards.

California has “deprived law-abiding citizens of the right to choose a handgun appropriate for their individual needs,” said C.D. Michel, lawyer for the California Rifle & Pistol Association, the state affiliate of the National Rifle Association. “If we can hold on to this great Second Amendment win through appeal, people will be able to choose from among thousands of the latest, greatest and safest handguns made today.”

But Bonta said the state law saves lives.

“We will continue to lead efforts to advance and defend California’s gun safety laws,” the attorney general said.

Reach Bob Egelko:; Twitter: @BobEgelko

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