Sunday, November 27, 2016

2017: California “Bullet Button” Gunowner’s Checklist

New laws taking effect in January 1, 2017 in the State of California will eliminate the “bullet button” feature the firearms sales landscape.  As it has been since 1989 when the original Roberti-Roos Assault Weapon Law was passed, a window of registration, conversion or removal begins that will affect California gun owners.  The new laws include not just the popular AR-15 but all other semiautomatic rifles also incorporating the bullet button feature.

1. Do you presently own a semiautomatic rifle equipped with a bullet button?
a. Yes, proceed to question 2.
b. No, skip to question 9.

2. Does your bullet button equipped firearm have any other features that would cause it to be affected by the new laws?  These include, muzzle devices, collapsible stocks, pistol grips, forward grips or any other cosmetic features enumerated by California laws.
a. Yes, your firearm is affected.  Proceed to question 3.
b. No, your firearm is not affected the new law.  In fact, why is there even a bullet button on your gun at all?  It was not required even under previous laws.

3. Do you wish to retain the other features of your firearm?
a. Yes, go to question 5.
b. No, go to question 4.

4. The 2017 California law continues to provide for what are known as “featureless” semiautomatic rifles.   The most common legacy featureless rifles include firearms such as the M-1 Garand, M-1 Carbine, Springfield M1A series and Ruger Mini-14 series rifles.  These rifles have fixed stocks, no pistol grips and plain muzzles; plain meaning not a flash hider or a 22 mm NATO specification grenade launcher spigot. You can modify your bullet button gun to this configuration by removing and/or replacing parts.  Once reconfigured, the rifle is legal in California.   As a bonus, you can remove the bullet button from the gun and replace it with a regular magazine catch.  This actually makes the rifle even safer to use because you can once again execute stoppage clearing drills the way these rifles were designed to be operated in the first place.  Do you want to convert your gun into a “featureless” rifle?
a. Yes, congratulations.  Once you complete your conversion, you will have a California legal rifle.  There is no need to further register it as the additional registration only affects firearms with features.
b. No, proceed to question 5.

5. OK. So the additional features on your gun are necessary or desirable to you.  Let’s start right in. For your type of shooting, do you need to perform magazine changes?   This is a necessity in certain forms of competition such as CMP/NRA high-power target competition or the rifle phases of 3-gun action shooting.   Collapsible butt stocks have utility for managing length of pull to adapt to differing shooting positions. Some muzzle devices improve a rifle's shot-to-shot stability and are important in both the action and precision competition disciplines. Many of these features also improve the operational handling for defensive use firearms.  Do you plan to use your rifle for any of these applications?
a. Yes, go to question 7.
b. No, go to question 6.

6. The California 2017 laws only affect feature equipped firearms is the magazine can be detached with or without the use of a tool without requiring the physical disassembly of the rifle.  For instance, disassembly in the case of an AR-15 is to open the action also known as cracking the action open. “Cracker” or “Top Loader” action AR’s first appeared in California in the early 2000’s.  They were awkward machines and were particularly problematic when double feed jams occurred – it happens – as the bolt carriers would be stuck in a rearward position preventing the action from swinging open. Remedying a malfunction required popping both action pins to completely separate the lower from the upper with live rounds in the gun. Not really ideal as the solution is more armorer skill level than operator, but not unworkable.  In 2017, modified magazine catches will be marketed to consumers that will prevent the magazine from being released unless the action is cracked open.  Are you interested in this option?
a. Yes, congratulations.  Once you complete your modification, you will have a California legal rifle.  There is no need to register it.  Bear in mind that this option is limited only to rifles that can be modified in this fashion; probably only mil-spec AR-15’s at the outset.
b. No, consider returning to question 4 for a “featureless” conversion or proceed to question 7.

7. From this point on, we enter territory that will require registering your rifle as a California statutory assault weapon.  We begin with the question of who the users of your rifle will be.  California’s assault weapon laws are specific. A person under the age of 21 is not allowed to possess, handle or operate a statutory assault weapon registered with the California Department of Justice. The gun must remain under the supervision and control of the registered owner at all times when in use. So the first question is will do you anticipate that a person under 21 years of age will use the rifle?   This includes your own children and/or participants in a junior training program.
a. Yes minors will use the rifle.  Sorry, the registration option is not open to you.  You should return to question 4 and consider the “featureless” conversion or return to question 6 to consider the “cracker” conversion depending on you anticipated use.  Unfortunately, after January 1, 2017, your only other option if you do not wish to do either of these conversions is to dispose it outside the State of California.  You can no longer legally sell your gun within the state. You may wish to register your current rifle and obtain an additional featureless rifle in 2017, see question 9.
b. No only adults over 21 will use the rifle. The registration option is available to you.  Proceed to question 8.

8. UPDATED Jan 16, 2017: Now comes the personal  politics question.  Do you want to register your rifle with the State of California?   The 2017 laws provide for a registration mechanism to enable owners of bullet button guns to register their property with the state as California statutory assault weapons.  Once registered, the rifle receives legal treatment under the same provisions that CA AW’s have received since 1989.  You can keep all features intact.  Theoretically, under equal treatment under the law principles, you should be able to remove the bullet button and replace it with a normal magazine catch that will make the rifle safer to operate.  However, CA-DOJ decided to write their draft of the rules specifically preventing gun owners from changing out their magazine releases to regular ones.  This may or may not hold true in the final regulations, see note 1.   In the meantime, unless you convert the gun into featureless rifle (see question 4), you should keep your rifle in bullet button configuration until you have registered it with the State of California and received your AW letter from CA DOJ.  Do you wish to do this?
a. Yes, congratulations. You are on your way to owning a California legal statutory assault weapon. These windows of new registration have opened repeatedly every few years since the original 1989 Roberti-Roos Act was passed. You are part of a continuing legacy of a quirky balance in the State of California that has incrementally restricted access to firearms by Californians but that has more often than not served to create explosions of demand in what is one of America’s largest and most vibrant regional firearms markets.
b. No, your options are now quite limited.  There is no provision in the new 2017 laws for Californians who wish to just leave their bullet button guns the way they are to legally retain them without interference. This is a definite flaw in the way the laws were structured and likely needs a new law written to address the gap. It’s one thing to restrict the future sale of future bullet button guns but as presently written, the new laws impose a de facto tax to register their rifles or shoulder the cost of converting their rifles to avoid registration.

9. This is the clean up question if you presently do not own a bullet button gun and think you might want a rifle in the future.   California is one of the largest regional markets for firearms in the United States; so large that despite the many quirks of its laws, manufacturers still find profitability in designing specific firearms models for California consumers.  If you look closely at the model numbers of new firearms sold in the state, they are suffixed “-CA” to indicate it’s a California law specific model.   Such will be the case with the post-bullet button era semiautomatic rifle market as well.  There will be “featureless” AR-15’s and other firearms models on dealers shelves.  The cycle that has repeated itself since 1989 begins anew.

Note 1: I'm still not convinced that CA-DOJ is actually authorized by the letter of the law to impose a requirement on gun owners registering bullet button guns to not be able to change to a magazine catch once their rifles are recorded as statutory AW's. My gut says CA-DOJ is pulling a fast one stretching their words beyond the letter of the laws as passed. Lawsuits will result from their stretching and their case is weak because so-called featureless rifles can have normal magazine catches. It's quite arbitrary, punitive and kind of hostile. Time will tell.