SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) - A bill sitting on the governor's desk could finally close what gun control advocates describe as a huge loophole in California's assault weapons ban. A KPIX 5 investigation first raised the issue more than a year ago, prompting state Sen. Leland Yee to introduce the first version of the legislation.
Since then the massacres in Connecticut and Colorado helped push a revised version, SB 374, through the legislature. Now that it could become law, critics warn SB 374 could backfire.
For years Jay Jacobson's Franklin Armory has specialized in manufacturing so-called "California legal" semi-automatic rifles such as the AR-15.
They're legal because of what's known as a bullet button, a button which is pushed by the tip of a bullet to release the empty magazine and pop in a new one.
Removable magazines in combination with other features are banned under California law, because they allow for faster reloading.
But a bullet button doesn't work with your finger, so the magazine is considered "fixed" and therefore legal. The modification has allowed military-style rifles like the AR-15 to proliferate in the state, something lawmakers have said has got to stop.
"We distinguish between the responsible and legal gun ownership for sport, for hunting for self-defense that is fine, but rapid-fire assault weapons are not needed for any of that," said the bill's lead author, Senator Darrell Steinberg.
SB 374 outlaws the manufacture and future sale of all semi-automatic centerfire rifles that have the "capacity to accept" detachable magazines, including bullet button guns.
"We are not making illegal the existing assault weapons that can be manipulated to allow detachable magazines," said Steinberg. That's because the bill allows current owners of rifles with detachable magazines to register them as legal assault weapons by July 2015.
Jacobson predicts that will backfire.
"What I would do is register the firearm, receive proof of that registration, then remove the bullet button and put in a standard magazine release," said Jacobson. That would make the gun even faster to reload and legalize an estimated one million rapid-fire rifles in California.
Steinberg disputes that assertion and stands by the registration part of his bill: "Law enforcement will know where those guns are, and I think that is the key," he said.
Meanwhile Jacobson's playing it safe: he's only manufacturing parts now at his Morgan Hill factory. The rest of his operations have moved to Nevada. But he says he's not forgetting California. "We have solutions that will not be a loophole, or a circumvention, it will simply be use of the law to our favor for 2014," he said.
No fewer than 14 gun control bills are sitting on the governor's desk right now. But it's Steinberg's bill that has the NRA threatening to sue, claiming it's unconstitutional by violating the Second Amendment.
The governor has until midnight Saturday to make a decision. So far he's not saying a word about what he might do.
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