California’s so-called “Safe Handgun Roster” has long been a thorn in the side of lawful gun owners in the Golden State. Unrealistic restrictions have infringed on Californians’ Second Amendment rights since the roster first took effect in 1999. In fact, the roster’s parameters are so strict, that not one semi-automatic firearm has been added since May of 2013, when the final restriction was added.
If you aren’t familiar with the Safe Handgun Roster, here’s what you should know: The California legislature first enacted the Unsafe Handgun Act (UHA) in 1999. Its stated purpose was to “reduce the number of firearms deaths in the state and curbing handgun crime, as well as promoting safety.” Essentially, the UHA, which established the roster, gave the state the power to dictate to Californians which handguns they could manufacture, sell, or own, based on subjective criteria established by politicians.
2007 saw the introduction of the requirement for a loaded chamber indicator (CLI) and a magazine disconnect mechanism (MDM). These were touted as guarding against accidental or negligent discharges. On a personal note, many gun owners, including yours truly, consider magazine disconnect mechanisms to be undesirable.
Finally, in 2013, lawmakers added microstamping capability as a roster requirement. Microstamping is the theoretical process of using a gun’s firing pin to imprint certain data, like the gun’s manufacturer, model, and serial number, onto the primer when a round is fired. These stamps would, of course, be microscopic, hence the name. The only problem was that such technology did not exist, nor does it exist today. That’s why it’s referred to as theoretical.
Those onerous requirements, however, may be getting the bum’s rush thanks to a recent ruling in Federal District Court.
California residents Lance Boland, Mario Santellan, Reno May, Jerome Schammel, and the California Rifle & Pistol Association filed suit in federal court, alleging that the roster, and its requirements, infringe on their Second Amendment rights, and are therefore unconstitutional.
The suit’s timing is not coincidental. Last year’s Bruen Decision by the Supreme Court opened the door to the challenge, with its requirement that gun laws must be consistent with the Second Amendment’s plain text and analogous to gun laws as they were understood and practiced in 1791, when the Bill of Rights was ratified.
Federal District Judge Cormac J. Carney opened the decision with a powerful statement indicating where the decision will go: “The Second Amendment guarantees the right to keep and bear arms for self-defense. That right is so fundamental that to regulate conduct covered by the Second Amendment’s plain text, the government must show more than that the regulation promotes an important interest like reducing accidental discharges or solving crime. Rather, to be constitutional, regulations of Second Amendment rights must be ‘consistent with this Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation.’” Meaning in 1791.
This statement demonstrates that Judge Carney recognizes and understands a core tenet of Bruen: that courts are not allowed to weigh the Second Amendment’s plain text against a perceived public good as defined by the government or the court itself. Justice Clarence Thomas noted that such considerations were “one step too many,” and thus unconstitutional. One would think other judges would understand this clear concept, but many have proven that they either do not, or they refuse to abide by that requirement.
Judge Carney then goes on to detail how no single handgun in the entire world meets the three requirements of a CLI, MDM, or microstamping capability. Not one. Therefore, no new semi-automatic handguns have been added to the roster since the microstamping requirement of May 2013. Californians who wish the exercise their rights, the judge notes, are limited to older designs and sometimes older handguns because the UHA prohibits their acquiring modern state-of-the-art models.
The judge also notes that not one of the over 800 handguns on the roster meets all three requirements, having been grandfathered in as those requirements were implemented. One wonders, then, whether the roster is actually about safety, as defined by California politicians, or strangling lawful gun purchases in the state. An excellent point was made by another commentator that the police are not bound by the roster’s restrictions. Does that mean the police carry inherently “unsafe” firearms? That fact alone renders the entire roster concept nonsensical.
The state’s attorneys trotted out dubious laws from 1783 Massachusetts, 1792 New York City, and 1821 Maine to try to justify the UHA, but Carney rejected them because they dealt primarily with gunpowder storage. In addition, those laws were intended to prevent fire and explosions, as opposed to limiting access to arms, so they are not analogous to the UHA.
The state also argued that the roster does not infringe on the Second Amendment because residents can purchase and own “some” firearms. Judge Carney rejected that ill-considered point as well.
Judge Carney’s conclusion lays it all out:
“The Second Amendment enshrines a fundamental constitutional right for law-abiding citizens to keep and bear arms for self-defense. Increasingly in modern times, with ‘the ubiquity of guns and our country’s high level of gun violence,’ ordinary law-abiding people feel a need to possess handguns to protect themselves against violence. This may be because they ‘live in high-crime neighborhoods,’ or because they ‘must traverse dark and dangerous streets in order to reach their homes after work or other evening activities,’ or because they ‘reasonably believe that unless they can brandish or, if necessary, use a handgun in the case of attack, they may be murdered, raped, or suffer some other serious injury.’”
“Californians have the constitutional right to acquire and use state-of-the-art handguns to protect themselves. They should not be forced to settle for decade-old models of handguns to ensure that they remain safe inside or outside the home. But unfortunately, the UHA’s CLI, MDM, and microstamping requirements do exactly that. Because enforcing those requirements implicates the plain text of the Second Amendment, and the government fails to point to any well-established historical analogues that are consistent with them, those requirements are unconstitutional and their enforcement must be preliminarily enjoined. Accordingly, Plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction is GRANTED”
This is a huge win for gun rights. California has long prided itself on its draconian gun control that limits responsible citizens while doing nothing to curb crime. Many of us have witnessed the head-scratching comments from California politicians regarding firearms, as well as clownish behaviors like former state legislator Kevin DeLeon’s explanation of “Ghost Guns” and “30 magazine clips.” You should look that one up online. It would be comedy gold if it weren’t so serious.
California isn’t the only state with a gun roster. Expect other suits to follow in those states. California will no doubt appeal this decision. That appeal will go to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, a notoriously anti-gun panel. But the Bruen Decision has forced the 9th Circuit to reexamine some of its past rulings, which are now wending their way through the Federal court system once again. One hopes the 9th Circuit can see which way the wind blows, but don’t count on it.
So, as always with these early cases, we have a nice win but it’s not over yet. This one will drag on for a while. The immediate question is whether the 9th Circuit will order a hold on Judge Carney’s preliminary injunction, thus delaying its benefits to California gun owners. We shall see.
You can read this important decision for yourself at courtlistener.com.