New legislation set to go into effect in 2018 already has gun owners in California scratching their heads.
Many of the changes gun owners have been hearing about are just hearsay. But much is indeed changing.
“They’re constantly rewriting some of this stuff,” said Matthew Haywood, an employee at Stage Stop Gun Shop in Atwater, which also operates a store in Mariposa. “It’s a mess. There are so many little pieces of the law … It’s a matter of picking everything apart.”
Haywood said he and his coworkers are getting questions about the new gun restrictions “every day.”
“We’re having to explain things, especially about ammunition,” Haywood said. “I was probably asked 15 to 20 times myself yesterday, and that’s not including the other employees.”
The Gazette set out to provide clear information regarding the new gun laws, with a little help from the gun shop.
Can people still own assault rifles?
Assault rifles can still be owned, but cannot be bought anymore.
That includes assault rifles equipped with “bullet buttons.”
Those bullet button rifles used to be exempt from being banned, because they required a tool to release the gun’s magazine rather than just the push of a finger, making them slower to reload.
But through new legislation, they are considered assault weapons.
They also need to be registered — and soon. Those who own firearms classified as “assault weapons” (including the bullet button assault rifles) need to register them by July 1, 2018, with the California Department of Justice (DOJ) or modify them so they are no longer deemed assault weapons.
Haywood said the assault weapon definition in California (found in Senate Bill No. 880) for rifles is a semiautomatic centerfire rifle, with a detachable magazine and one of the following features: flash suppressor (minimizes flash of gun), a forward vertical grip (a grip that protrudes from the front of the gun straight down so you can wrap a hand around it), a pistol grip (an object that protrudes conspicuously below the trigger of the firearm) and an adjustable telescoping stock.
“To make it compliant, you can make it a fixed magazine, which would make the firearm no longer have a detachable magazine,” Haywood said.
Another option is to make it a “featureless” rifle, a California compliant semi-automatic rifle that doesn’t have any of the features listed above that would deem it an “assault weapon.”
Those who don’t wish to make their rifles “featureless” need to register their assault weapon with the DOJ, by visiting www.oag.ca.gov/firearms.
“It’s a very simple process, and it’s $15 to register your assault weapon,” Haywood said.
Assault weapons are not transferable
Haywood said that assault weapons are non-transferable.
Essentially, for those who own an assault weapon, it is theirs for life.
“They cannot transfer it to anyone in the state,” Haywood said. “Family cannot inherit it.”
According to the Department of Justice, neither assault weapons nor .50 BMG rifles can be sold or transferred to a family member. Registered assault weapons or Registered .50 BMG rifles can be sold to certain California Peace Officers with written approval from the head of their law enforcement agency.
In addition, if you own an assault weapon, you “have to carry your registration with you,” Haywood said. “You have to legally prove you are able to possess that firearm.”
Ammunition sales changing
After Jan. 1, 2018, California residents hoping to purchase ammunition will no longer be able to order ammunition online and have it sent directly to their homes or other desired locations. They will have to have it sent to a DOJ licensed vendor in California to be processed.
“Then you can pick it up from them,” Haywood said. “There are obviously going to be transfer fees with that.”
Can ammunition be brought from out of state?
Gone are the days of going to gun shows in Nevada, for example, and bringing back ammunition, Haywood explained.
According to the California Penal Code section 30314, beginning Jan. 1, 2018, California residents “shall not bring or transport into this state any ammunition that he or she purchased or otherwise obtained from outside of this state unless he or she first has that ammunition delivered to a licensed ammunition vendor for delivery to that resident…”
There are some exemptions to who can import ammunition, Haywood said.
“Obviously that includes licensed ammunition dealers, and active law enforcement is exempt from that,” Haywood said. “The other exemption is if it is delivered to you by a family member. But a family member in the DOJ’s eyes is a parent only. It’s basically a parent to child transfer, or child to parent transfer.”
A permit to purchase ammunition could eventually be required for Californians.
If it does end up being required, it certainly won’t be as soon as people thought.
“Everybody is scared that after Jan. 1, 2018, they will have to have a permit to purchase (ammunition),” Haywood said. “That is not true.”
What is true, Haywood said, is that starting Jan. 1, 2018, ammunition buyers will pay a $1 state fee to purchase ammunition.
It is actually July 1, 2019, that persons will eventually be required to obtain a permit to purchase ammunition.
Will people have to undergo background checks to buy ammunition?
Not yet, but according to the Sacramento Bee, in July of 2019, persons will need to undergo a background check to purchase ammunition.
Is there a limit on how much ammunition can be bought?
It doesn’t appear the new rules impose a limit on how much ammunition can be purchased.
“I haven’t seen anything in an official format from the DOJ or state of California,” Haywood said.
Haywood said he has spoken to some of his friends in the gun industry, however, and they believe “it is possible it could be limited to 500 rounds a month, in total,” in the future.
How the laws are affecting the gun market
The new gun laws have boosted business, Haywood explained.
“Right now, it’s a very busy time for us as far as people who own the AR-style rifles,” Haywood said. “A lot of people are confused about what they can and can’t do with their rifles. We have sat down and focused on what we can do for our customers to help them not become a criminal. We’ve been doing a lot of California compliant changes for our customers. We’re doing a lot of those conversions for customers. Business there has picked up.”
Haywood said ammunition sales are “picking up a bit.” Haywood said the store has no plans to raise its prices to capitalize on the situation.
“We’re not going to raise the prices on anything, but I do know some gun shops are already starting to raise the price on their ammunition because there is a demand for it and people are looking to take advantage of it,” Haywood said. “We’re not going to take advantage of the laws.”
Why were these laws passed?
The implementation of these laws will continue to keep California among the states with the strictest gun laws.
Haywood, who retired from a career in law enforcement, said he does not agree with the laws.
“I don’t think they’re justifiable,” Haywood said. “A lot of laws are being written by people with no experience with firearms whatsoever. Drug laws were created to protect the health and safety of people. Did outlawing heroin or methamphetamine work? No, it just made it go to the black market. I see that happening with ammunition. I foresee prices going up and those types of things.”
Haywood said his “feeling” is that lawmakers are creating “reactionary measures.”
“They’re going after the firearm makers,” Haywood said, when the problem lies with “these individuals that have some type of issue that are causing these problems we have.”
“It’s my opinion there is not enough research behind these laws,” Haywood added. “They’re creating laws to make themselves look better. These laws aren’t doing anything to protect law-abiding citizens. They’re making it harder for law-abiding citizens to obtain things to do recreational hobbies or to protect our families.”
Foster says he won’t sell ammo anymore
One local business owner has already decided he won’t put up with the new laws.
Troy Foster, owner of Foster Ace Hardware in Mariposa, is discontinuing sales of ammunition on Dec. 31.
“The state has, under the guise of some safety ridiculousness, made it nearly impossible to sell,” Foster said. “The next restriction that will kick in will be when you have to do an instantaneous background check on someone to sell them a box of .22 shorts.”
Foster said the regulations for sellers of ammunition are “so onerous.”
“Any person who could potentially be involved in the sale of ammo, i.e. touch it, pick it up, move it to the cash register, or be the cashier who checks them out, has to go to the sheriff’s office and pretty much be live scanned,” Foster said, meaning electronically fingerprinted.
Foster said part of the reason he won’t sell ammunition is for the “comfort of employees,” who already go through background checks when they are hired.
When Foster made the announcement on his company’s Facebook page, it led to many people stopping by the store to purchase ammunition.
“There was a line in front of the store at 7:30 in the morning,” Foster said. “We sold about $13,000 worth of ammo that day.”
There is currently a limited stock available at the store and it will be sold on a first come, first serve basis.
The store is located at 5188 Highway 49 North in Mariposa.
Matt Johnson is Sports and Education Editor of the Mariposa Gazette and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.