Federal Judge Blocks 2001 California Law Requiring Safety Features on Handguns

Gun Rights
Man holds handgun
A man holds a handgun at the National Rifle Association annual convention in Houston in 2022. REUTERS/Callaghan O’Hare

A federal judge on Monday blocked California from enforcing a state law requiring new semiautomatic handguns to have certain safety features, finding it violates the right to bear arms under the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

The ruling by U.S. District Judge Cormac Carney in Santa Anna, California is the latest in a line of decisions striking down state gun laws following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling last year expanding gun rights. The judge said it would not take effect for 14 days to give the state a chance to appeal.

The office of California Attorney General Rob Bonta did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Four individuals and the California Rifle & Pistol Association, a gun rights group, sued the state last August to challenge the Unsafe Handgun Act.

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The 2001 law requires new semiautomatic handguns to have an indicator showing when there is a round in the chamber and a mechanism to prevent firing when the magazine is not fully inserted, both meant to prevent accidental discharge. It also requires that they stamp a serial number onto bullets they fire, known as microstamping.

A previous challenge to the law was rejected by the San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in 2018. But the new lawsuit was filed less than six weeks after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled last June that gun control measures must be consistent with the nation’s historical tradition of gun control regulation.

The plaintiffs said the law failed that test and severely restricted Californians’ right to own guns, because no new guns are being manufactured that comply with the requirements. That means buyers in the state are limited to models from before 2013, when the law fully took effect, the plaintiffs said.

Carney, who was appointed by Republican former president George W. Bush, agreed, finding the plaintiffs were likely to win and granting their request for a preliminary order blocking the law.

He said the state had failed to point to any historical parallel for it and that Californians “should not be forced to settle for decade-old models of handguns.”

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