Few things are more corrosive to our civil liberties than unaccountable bureaucrats drafting administrative regulations. It’s far worse, though, when those same bureaucrats provide the administrative clarifications to liberty-suffocating laws that were directly passed by the legislature and the people by popular referenda.
California politicians have long sought to throw roadblocks in front of the right to keep and bear arms, but this has accelerated in the last decade. Last year, a smorgasbord of gun control laws were passed by both the state legislature and via popular referenda in the Golden State (kindly enumerated online by public station 89.3 KPCC):
(1) Expanding California’s definition of “assault weapons” to include semi-automatic rifles that are equipped with a tool to detach the magazine (“bullet button rifles”). There would be a grandfathering provision here, as rifles legally possessed and registered with California authorities at the time the law comes into effect would still be legal, but could never be transferred (even at time of death of the owner.)
(2) Requiring a background check for people purchasing ammunition.
(3) Banning mere possession of any detachable magazine capable of holding more than ten (10) cartridges, with no grandfather provision. Before the law comes into effect, these magazines would have to be either destroyed, transferred out of state, or handed in to law enforcement.
(4) Restricting the loaning of firearms to persons who are not immediate relatives.
(5) Making it a misdemeanor to falsely report a stolen firearm, and banning guilty people from buying another firearm for ten years.
So what are these laws going to look like when the rubber hits the road? Well…I wish I could tell you more, but I can’t. At least not yet.
Before these rules can be enforced, the California Department of Justice’s Office of Administrative Law (OAL) has to draft new regulations interpreting these laws, which will be added to the communistically long set of rules that Californians must endure.
In December 2016, the OAL tried to move forward with a series of draft regulations interpreting these new laws, but used a “file and print” process. That means that the regs were not going to be subject to public notice or comment. When word got out that they were using a secretive process to submit these new rules, a hue and cry was raised, and the OAL backed down.
As Bruce Krafft reported, the OAL is at it again. They were forced to cough-up sixty pages of documents related to the new regulations thanks to a public records request from the Firearms Policy Coalition. The documents can be viewed in their entirety here, although there’s only fifteen pages that contain the proposed regulations.
It appears that the OAL wants to completely rewrite Title 11, Division 5, Chapter 39, Article 2 sec. 5469 of the California Code of Regulations. Originally, this section provided definitions of the five criteria that made a firearm an “assault weapon” under California law. The proposed changes, however, are pretty substantive.
The title of Article 2 has been changed from “Definitions of Terms Used to Identify Assault Weapons” to “Registration Requirement, What Qualifies for Registration, and Definitions.” The re-naming of Article 2 is an eloquent reminder of the mission creep that accompanies all gun control laws.
The definition section jumps through a lot of verbal hoops to explain that a semi-automatic centerfire rifle with a fixed magazine that can be removed with a so-called “bullet button” is an “assault weapon.” It also lays out the process through which the unhappy denizens of California with these previously-legal rifles will have to endure to register their firearms so they may continue to legally possess them.
Online registration will apparently be available — the website currently, however, shows this message to visitors:
In theory, of course, these regulations are still tentative, and another surge of protest might cause them to be softened on the edges (although the black letter law being what it is here, there’s only so much softening that can be done.)
Still, as hard as it may be to believe, there are 33 millions guns legally owned in California, more than in any other state in the Union. Even Texas. Even if there’s a 3:1 ratio of guns to individual owners, that’s still a heck of a lot of people whose voices might make a difference.
I spoke with Dr. Arthur Przebinda, a California gun rights activist and occasional TTAG contributor on the impact of these regulations.
He pointed out something that is sometimes lost in the shuffle: as a gun rights activist, he tries to make sure that that his equipment is always in compliance with the law (even if it could’ve been ‘grandfathered’ in,) in part because he doesn’t want to get harassed by ill-informed or jumpy gun range staff or local constabulary.
He also wants to make sure that his firearm collection can be inherited — which even grandfathered-in, properly registered “assault weapons” in California cannot be. There’s a chilling effect that these laws have above and beyond the immediate term.
In my opinion, it lays bare the lawmakers’ desire to dry up the supply of rifles that can be owned by the citizenry.
Until the administrative rules are finalized, Dr. Przebinda and millions of other gun owners in California are in a holding pattern. They aren’t able to take steps to comply with the registration requirement, because that’s still up in the air. They can’t even take steps to make their rifles compliant with the new laws, because they don’t know how, exactly, the OAL is going to define “assault weapons” just yet.
“We don’t know what features and components would make a Stoner or Kalashnikov variant compliant and exempt from registration as an [assault weapon],” says Dr. Przebinda.
Helping Californians who just want to go on with their own lives, of course, was never what these laws were about.