California 'Bullet Button' Gun Registry Process Bogs Down As Deadline Looms
(KPIX 5) -- Six years ago, KPIX 5 was the first to expose a workaround in California's gun laws that allowed military style rifles like AR-15s to proliferate in the state.
Now those guns are considered assault weapons, and have to be registered. But we've discovered the process appears to have hit some roadblocks.
Take Jay Jacobson. He's a gun manufacturer, so he knows his firearms. Yet his attempt to register some personal rifles on the California state website has him stumped. He showed us an example: one of the firearms he is trying to register got kicked back three times.
"I believe they may be calling this a telescoping stock. It's only a fixed stock, it's only minutely adjustable," said Jacobson. "Other than that, I can't figure out why they have not allowed this to go through and what is frustrating is they don't bother to tell you."
Meanwhile, the deadline is looming. Under a new California law, all semi-automatic rifles with a feature called a "bullet button" have to be registered by June 30th. It's a release mechanism that was designed as a workaround to the state's assault weapons ban, which forbids detachable magazines. Since the bullet button requires a tool, usually the tip of a bullet, to release the magazine, it was considered "fixed" and therefore legal.
Then San Bernardino happened. The shooters who massacred 14 people and wounded 21 others were armed with bullet button AR's, finally swaying state lawmakers and the governor to change the law.
But Jacobson says staying legal has not been a not an easy task. "Everybody that's doing this is doing so to comply, they have a willingness to follow the law. And yet they're making it as difficult as possible," said Jacobson.
KPIX 5 put in a public records request with the state Department of Justice a month ago to find out how many gun owners have successfully registered their bullet button AR's but have yet to get a response. A spokesperson told us on the phone that no information would be released until after the June 30th deadline passes.
"They don't know, plain and simple," said Travis Morgan, owner of Guns, Fishing and Other Stuff, an outdoor recreation company with stores in Vacaville and Dublin.
Morgan says many customers who own bullet button guns aren't even trying to register them. "There is too much drawback to it," said Morgan. "I have been told that if you register your gun as an assault weapon, DOJ has the right to search your house at any point in time they feel like it. I don't want them in my house."
Instead he says he and most of his customers are going "featureless." If you take off certain features like a collapsible stock, a pistol grip and a flash suppressor, a gun with a detachable magazine is no longer considered an assault weapon. "They are all workarounds of some sort," said Morgan.
He showed us several new "California Legal" models that are now for sale in his store. "Basically, baker's choice. What do you want?" said Morgan.
"It's amazing the creativity and ways they find around our definitions and laws," said Amanda Wilcox, legislative advocate for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence who was instrumental in passing the new gun registration law. "We have passed and updated our assault weapons law now four times," said Wilcox. "We have never confiscated the weapons. We have grandfathered them in."
Wilcox's daughter, Laura, was 21 when she was killed in a mass shooting 2001. Since then, 54 others have died in mass shootings in California. But overall gun deaths have dropped 56%, a bigger decline than any other state, something Wilcox attributes to our strict laws. "Every time we are bringing down that number, that is someone's life who is saved," said Wilcox.
As for possible delays in the registration process, Wilcox remarked, "I am quite certain out of protest, that many will choose or are choosing to register at the last minute. And whether that then makes the system crash because there are so many at once, I am sure they would be delighted at that."
Jacobson insists he's not trying to sabotage anything. Quite the contrary, he's been trying to complete his registration with the DOJ since April. "Operator 202 had mentioned to me the process can take 8-12 weeks and that their department counsel is not aware what will happen with those that submit before the deadline but don't have it approved before the deadline," said Jacobson. "So I don't know what's going to happen to those folks, which could include myself at this point."
He's hoping that shedding a light on the problem will provide answers.
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