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January 23, 2014

NSSF and SAAMI’s Challenge to California Microstamping Law

Manufacturers Now Acting; Second Amendment Rights Are in the Balance

It was inevitable given the unconstitutional and unworkable governmental overreach now under way in the State of California.  Smith & Wesson and Sturm, Ruger & Co., two of the most recognized names in American firearms manufacturing, have confirmed that they are being forced to stop selling new or improved models of semiautomatic handguns in California because it is simply impossible to comply with the state’s microstamping law.  That law became effective last year and applies to all new models of pistols introduced to the California market. Read the Smith & Wesson Statement. Sturm, Ruger & Co. also said it will stop new sales there.

On Jan. 9, the National Shooting Sports Foundation and the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute (SAAMI) filed a lawsuit on behalf of our respective members against the State of California in Fresno Superior Court challenging the state’s microstamping law. NSSF and SAAMI are seeking to invalidate and enjoin enforcement of provisions of state law enacted in 2007, but not made effective until May 2013, requiring that all semiautomatic pistols sold in the state not already on the California approved handgun roster contain unproven and unreliable microstamping technology.

Under this law, firearms manufacturers would have to micro laser-engrave a gun’s make, model and serial number on two distinct parts of each gun, including the firing pin so that, in theory, this information would be imprinted on the cartridge casing when the pistol is fired.

As I said when we announced this important legal challenge, there is simply no existing microstamping technology that will reliably, consistently and legibly imprint the required identifying information by a semiautomatic handgun on the ammunition it fires. The holder of the patent for this technology himself has written that there are problems with it and that further study is warranted before it is mandated. A National Academy of Science review, forensic firearms examiners and a University of California at Davis study reached the same conclusion and the technical experts in the firearms industry agree.

Manufacturers can not comply with a law the provisions of which are invalid, that cannot be enforced and that will not contribute to improving public safety. As a result, NSSF and SAAMI are seeking both declaratory and injunctive relief against this back-door attempt to prevent the sale of new semiautomatic handguns to law-abiding citizens in California.

In 2007, over our industry’s strenuous objections, California Assembly Bill 1471 was passed and signed into law requiring microstamping on internal parts of new semiautomatic pistols. We had called for a federal study of microstamping rather than a one-state mandate for this flawed, unreliable and easily defeated technology.

The legislation provided that this requirement would only became effective if the California Department of Justice certified that the microstamping technology is available to more than one manufacturer unencumbered by patent restrictions. The California legislature subsequently reorganized certain statutes concerning the regulation of firearms, including the microstamping law in 2010. On May 17, 2013, Attorney General Kamala D. Harris provided such certification despite the fact that peer-reviewed research proved microstamping does not work.

We predicted in 2007 that the passage of AB 1471 would lead to a de facto semiautomatic handgun ban. Now that the law has become effective, that ban has begun to roll forward.

See the NSSF Fast Facts on Microstamping for additional background.

The eyes of the nation are now turning to California. The national media has begun to take notice. This situation is not only about a consumer’s right to select the handguns with the latest features, or the aforementioned inability of manufacturers to comply with an unworkable law, the Constitutional, Second Amendment stakes are very high.  You will want to stay tuned.

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Categories: Government Relations, Industry News, Top Stories, WTS