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Saturday, July 13, 2024 | Back issues
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Gun Lobby Challenge to California Handgun Roster Advances

It's the first legal challenge to a new California rule that requires the removal of three grandfathered handguns for every new gun added to the roster of guns that can be sold in the state.

SAN DIEGO (CN) --- A federal judge found California’s new handgun law provision requiring the removal of three grandfathered handguns for every new handgun added to its list of guns that can be sold in the state “substantially infringes” Californians’ ability to purchase handguns for self-defense.

U.S. District Chief Judge Dana Sabraw found the “three-to-one” provision of California’s Unsafe Handgun Act, which went into effect Jan. 1, “imposes a greater restriction on the pool of handguns available for sale in California” and may violate the Second Amendment.

“The court is not persuaded there is a ‘reasonable fit’ between the state’s asserted objective and the three-for-one provision,” Sabraw, a George W. Bush appointee, wrote.

“Defendants offer no justification for why the statute requires the removal of three handguns for each new handgun added, instead of, for instance, a proportional one-to-one.”

Sabraw’s ruling Friday is the first to come down since Assembly Bill 2847 took effect.

Gun owner Lana Rae Renna, leading a group of individual gun owners and lobbying groups including the Second Amendment Foundation, San Diego County Gun Owners PAC and Firearms Policy Coalition, sued the state this past November alleging the new provision violates their constitutional rights.

But it is not the first time the gun lobby has challenged California’s Unsafe Handgun Act, which regulates the sale of firearms by maintaining a roster of handguns deemed “not unsafe” based on certain requirements and therefore saleable in the Golden State.

To be deemed “not unsafe” handguns sold in California must have certain features. Semiautomatic pistols, for example, must have a chamber load indicator, magazine detachment mechanism and microstamping technology that places identifying information fired shell casings to assist law enforcement.

The requirements were implemented in 2007 to limit accidental discharges.

In 2018, the Ninth Circuit found the law did not infringe gun owner’s Second Amendment rights, as the UHA regulates commercial sales and not possession of a handgun.

But since that case did not address the issue of removal of handguns from the state’s roster and the enactment of AB 2847 occurred after the Ninth Circuit’s decision, Sabraw found the current lawsuit is not barred by the previous decision.

The number of handguns on the roster which can legally be purchased in California has shrunk significantly since the UHA added the microstamping requirement in 2013.

At the end of 2013, there were 1,273 makes and models of approved handguns on California’s roster. By Nov. 8, 2020, more than 400 handguns had been removed.

Three days after AB 2847 went into effect, there were 779 handguns on the state’s roster according to the first amended complaint.

The California Attorney General’s Office did not respond to an inquiry regarding the current number of handguns included on the roster.

In his 15-page order April 23, Sabraw found the gun owners and industry groups sufficiently pleaded the UHA substantially impacts their Second Amendment rights since the roster rule “limits the ability of law-abiding citizens to acquire firearms, which is critical to ensuring the Second Amendment right to keep arms.”

“Because plaintiffs have alleged the number of handguns available for purchase on the roster has steadily declined and will continue to decline, plaintiffs sufficiently demonstrate the UHA burdens protected conduct by substantially infringing plaintiffs’ ability to acquire firearms for self-defense,” Sabraw wrote.

The chief judge also found the state’s argument that AB 2847 satisfies the intermediate scrutiny requirement to find firearms laws are constitutionally consistent with the Second Amendment didn’t pass muster.

California argued the three-for-one provision furthers public safety by removing grandfathered handgun models when new models complying with applicable features are added to the state’s roster, facilitating “a transition over time toward full compliance.”

 But Sabraw found there may not be a “reasonable fit” between the state’s safety goals and the three-for-one provision.

“The roster is already transitioning toward the compliance that defendants claim as their objective. As plaintiffs allege, application of the three-for-one provision will accelerate this trend further, rendering the number of handguns available for purchase unacceptably small,” Sabraw wrote.

The gun owners and organizations are represented by Raymond DiGuiseppe of Southport, North Carolina, and Michael Sousa of San Diego.

Neither the Attorney General’s Office nor the attorneys for the gun owners returned phone and email requests for comment by press time.

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