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'Bullet Button' Loophole Made San Bernardino Shooters' Assault Rifles Legal In California

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) -- The shooters who massacred 14 people and wounded 21 others in San Bernardino were heavily armed with semi-automatic handguns and assault-style rifles.

AR-15-style rifles with detachable magazines, combined with other assault weapon characteristics, are banned in California because they allow for faster reloading. But the guns used in the massacre are legal in California because of what's known as a "bullet button."


It's a button you have to push with the tip of a bullet or other tool, to remove the detachable magazine. Since the bullet button requires a tool, and doesn't allow the changing out of magazines with just the push of your finger, the magazine is considered "fixed" and therefore legal.

The modification has allowed military-style rifles like the AR-15 to proliferate in the state. They're some of the most popular guns used today at gun ranges for target practice.

"What we have found is that the industry has taken advantage of a definition loophole in California law and they have done it brazenly," said Josh Sugarmann with the Violence Policy Center.

"These guns we are talking about were designed specifically for modern warfare. They were designed to kill as many people as possible in as short a time as possible," he said. He said virtually every gun manufacturer in the country is making the so-called "California legal" AR-style rifles, because of the huge profit potential in the state.

In 2013, Governor Jerry Brown vetoed a bill that would have banned all assault-style rifles with the capacity to accept detachable magazines, including bullet button rifles. The governor stated he didn't believe a blanket ban would enhance public safety enough to warrant the infringement on gun owners' rights.

It's a sentiment many Californians still share, even hours after the San Bernardino mass shooting.

"Being a supporter of the second amendment, I feel like a lot of these people are giving us a bad name. Most of the people that are legal gun owners they follow the law they never do things like this. They go to the shooting ranges," said Brian Morris, a San Bernardino resident.

Morris says passing laws that restrict gun ownership in California are not the solution. "No matter what kind of laws are enacted, it's hard to stop criminals because they don't follow laws," he said.


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