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Fallout In Sacramento Over Bill To Ban 'Bullet Button'

SACRAMENTO (CBS 5) -- A bill that would have closed what gun control advocates call a giant loophole in California's strict assault weapons ban has died.

A CBS 5 investigation prompted Bay Area State Senator Leland Yee to sponsor the gun control bill, and this summer's massacre in Aurora, Colorado that left 12 dead and 58 injured seemed to give SB249 some momentum. But that quickly fizzled out.

Jay Jacobsen owns a gun factory, making military style semi-automatic rifles in Santa Clara County. He runs a legal business, because the rifles made here are installed with "bullet buttons."

The bullet button is a device manufacturers have come up with to abide by the state's ban on detachable magazines, which are illegal in combination with other features such as a collapsible stock or pistol grip.

Since a bullet button doesn't work with one's finger, a tool such as the tip of a bullet is needed to release it, the magazine is considered fixed and therefore legal.

"The fact that we were able to work with a system that is legal and viable and marketable, that's just American ingenuity," said Jacobsen.

But Jacobsen said he had to go into combat mode this summer: A bill in Sacramento would have banned the bullet button, hurting not just his business, but also some half a million Californians who would have to modify or give up their guns.

"It would be an illegal taking," said Jacobsen. "So the choice would be to either provide a registration system where somebody could rightfully take their property and register it, or to compensate the individual. When you have a state that is $25 billion dollars in the red, we don't need another half a billion dollar liability."

State Senator Leland Yee, who sponsored the bill, said the campaign became ugly fast. "We got emails, we got phone calls. We even had billboards along 101," he said.

Three months later the Assembly Appropriations committee killed the bill.

"There was some arguments that we don't need this bill because it can in fact be handled administratively," said Yee. "The Attorney General can in fact just simply write regulations that say from now forward the bullet button in the state of California is banned," he said.

But Attorney General Kamala Harris points the finger back at Yee and other lawmakers. "The regulations are only an effect based on the law that supports them. The law needs to change to make it more specific," she told CBS 5.

That's because state regulations written to interpret the assault weapons law contradict it. The regulations approve bullet buttons, even though bullet buttons allow the same quick reloading that the law forbids.

An undercover firearms expert with the California Department of Justice even confirmed it. "It's getting very close to what was banned originally," he said. And then he showed CBS 5 just how fast the bullet button works. "You might have a second or two difference," he said.

Attorney General Harris agrees. "It's scary…we all agree that is not what the law intended," she told CBS 5.

So what's next? With no action from Harris' office and no more action at least this year from state lawmakers, the bullet button remains legal in California.

Back at Jacobsen's factory, he said, "It's creating a lot of back orders for us. It drives a lot of business our way."

We asked the Attorney General about that. Her response, "We would like to hope that these manufacturers would stop trying to get around the intention of the law. We would like to believe that people wouldn't purchase products from manufacturers that are obviously trying to get around the intention of the law, unfortunately that is not happening."

Meanwhile, Jacobsen is hedging his bets. In case the bullet button ever is banned, he has got other designs in mind.

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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