CA's New Microstamping Law Is A Slow-Motion Gun Ban

Californians could see the number of handguns available for sale in the state dwindle even further, thanks to an anti-gun overhaul of the state’s microstamping law signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday. AB 2847 makes some major changes to the existing microstamping law, which has been on the books since 2012 and has already blocked sales of new models of handguns for years.

The original version of the microstamping law required handgun manufacturers to design their handguns to imprint a unique identifying code on each ammunition cartridge as it was fired. In fact, gun companies had to ensure that there were actually two microstamps on each round of ammunition, which was virtually impossible for manufacturers to comply with.

As a result, not only have new handgun models not been approved for sale in the state since 2012, but about half of the handguns that were on the state’s roster of approved handguns have been removed in the years since. Every time a manufacturer made a small design tweak to an existing model, California’s Department of Justice claimed it was an entirely new model subject to the microstamping provisions, and removed the handgun from the state’s roster.

The slow-motion handgun ban will continue, and likely speed up a bit with the new microstamping language. Now manufacturers only need to imprint the microstamp on each fired round in one location, which the state says is feasible. For every new microstamped model that becomes available for sale in California, however, several older models of handguns will disappear from the roster of approved guns.

The new law seeks to speed up micro-stamping of guns by instructing the attorney general to remove three models from the state list of handguns certified as safe for sale for each new compliant handgun model that is introduced.

The law is opposed by groups including the National Rifle Assn. and the California Rifle and Pistol Assn.

Removing three firearm models certified by the state as safe from the list of allowable guns for every new one added is “nonsensical and a blatant effort to curtail law-abiding citizens’ choice to determine the right firearm for the defense of themselves and their loved ones,” Daniel Reid, western regional director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, wrote in a letter to lawmakers.

With anti-gun lawmakers and law-enforcement officers like California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and San Francisco D.A. Chesa Boudin embracing the move, you know it’s not likely to benefit gun owners or firearms manufacturers. Unfortunately, the new law isn’t likely to benefit law enforcement either. The only way to imprint that unique microstamp on every spent round is to use the firing pin of each handgun to stamp the cartridge case, but the technology is easily defeated, either by defacing the firing pin with an abrasive material like a metal file or by simply swapping out the firing pin with another.

In fact, the law makes no mention of what happens if a legal gun owner needs to replace the firing pin in a microstamped handgun. Firing pins can wear out and break through repeated use, but the law has no provision for replacing the gun part. If a gun owner swaps out a microstamped firing pin with an unmicrostamped pin, are they breaking the law? Has their handgun suddenly become “unsafe”?

Rather than a valuable crime fighting tool, microstamping is simply another way to reduce the numbers and types of handguns available to California gun owners. The only silver lining with the new law is that it will likely lead to a new legal challenge. A lawsuit filed against the state over the original microstamping law was one of nearly a dozen Second Amendment-related cases rejected by the Supreme Court earlier this year, but the makeup of the Court will have changed by the time a challenge to the new law reaches SCOTUS, which should give gun owners some hope that justices will be more amenable to grant cert to a microstamping challenge the next time around.