Industry News: New California Law Boon to State’s Retailers, Bad for Consumers
By Robert M. Hausman

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) recently signed new legislation affecting handgun ammunition sales that will take effect on February 1, 2010.

The new law requires individuals purchasing handgun ammunition in California to be fingerprinted and registered at the time of sale by the retailer. It also mandates that dealers keep written records on ammunition sales and make them available for inspection by law enforcement. Ammunition retailers will also have to store handgun ammo in such a manner that it would be inaccessible to purchasers. Finally, mail order ammo sales of handgun caliber ammo are banned as the new law prohibits non face-to-face handgun ammunition transactions.

However, California law broadly interprets any caliber that can be used in both a rifle and a pistol as “handgun” ammunition, even though the particular caliber may not have been originally designed for a handgun. Thus, such popular calibers as .22 rimfire and .223 Remington will be effectively banned from mail order sales once the bill becomes law. A provision mandating that ammunition retailers have to also obtain a special ammunition dealers license was stricken from the bill’s final version.

The governor vetoed a similar bill four years ago saying it had no public safety benefit. What caused him to change his mind this time is unknown. Some California cities and counties have already had similar legislation regarding ammo sales on their books for several years. Major mail order ammunition dealer Cabela’s, Inc. was in the forefront of those lobbying against the bill.

The net effect of the new law will be a boon to California ammunition retailers willing to put up with all the red tape once the new law goes into effect as they will largely have a captive audience to whom they will be able to charge virtually whatever price the market will bear. In the short term, California’s shooting sports retailers will likely benefit financially as there will be a rush by shooters to stock up on handgun ammo before the law goes into effect. Nevada and Oregon retailers situated close to the California border should see an upturn in their ammunition business starting in February from Californians making bulk purchases to make their driving time and fuel expense for the ammo buying trip worthwhile.

In a statement released after the bill’s signing, Governor Schwarzenegger was reported as saying, “Although I have previously vetoed legislation similar to this measure, local governments have demonstrated that requiring ammunition vendors to keep records on ammunition sales improves public safety. These records have allowed law enforcement to arrest and prosecute persons who have no business possessing firearms and ammunition; gang members, violent parolees, second and third strikers, and even people previously serving time in state prison for murder.

“Moreover, this type of record-keeping is no more intrusive for law-abiding citizens than similar laws governing pawn-shops or the sale of cold medicine,” Schwarzenegger concluded.

While not familiar with California regulations regarding the sale of cold medicine, this author would question whether or not Californians unfortunate enough to catch a cold must undergo being fingerprinted, having to provide identification, and having their purchase registered before they can purchase a remedy to relieve their cold symptoms, as the governor implies.

Despite a lack of support for the bill by state Attorney General Brown, and any law enforcement organization - in fact, 15 sheriffs wrote letters of opposition to the legislation, Schwarzenegger bowed to some as yet unknown influence in signing the measure.

Additionally, when the federal Gun Control Act of 1968 first went into effect, its provisions mandated a similar ban on mail-order ammo sales and required dealers to keep records of ammunition sales. However, these ammunition provisions were shown to be ineffective in crime control and Congress abolished the federal ammo provisions over 20 years ago.

Back Door Gun Registration Scheme

The new law will also become a vehicle for a back-door registration scheme of California gun owners, points out the National Rifle Association. Since the law mandates that dealers’ record buyers’ names, addresses, fingerprints, as well as the caliber of the ammunition they are buying, the state’s Department of Justice thus will have a list of individuals owning firearms as well as the calibers of the guns they own, as dealer records are subject to government inspection. Dealers are required to maintain these records indefinitely.

Commenting on the bill, Chris Cox, NRA’s chief lobbyist said, “This law presents intrusive and unnecessary burdens that will only affect law-abiding firearm retailers and gun owners. It is indeed regrettable that foolish minds and bogus arguments prevailed over common sense and empirical evidence.”

The NRA is reviewing “all possible options” against the new statute, and is assessing legislative and legal remedies to do so. It has already helped a state legislator to draft and introduce legislation to repeal the ammo measure.

NRA Targets Bloomberg

The National Rifle Association has had enough with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s misnamed “Mayors Against Illegal Guns” (MAIG) group and has targeted it.

The NRA is using its grass roots network to focus on letter writing campaigns to put political pressure on mayors listed as being members of the group. The NRA has been sending out notices with list of the MAIG members to let NRA grass roots activists know if their mayor is working against their interests.

Within three weeks of the start of the NRA’s campaign, approximately 60 mayors have resigned from the group.

Membership List Suspect

And now new evidence suggests that some of the names of reported MAIG member mayors were used without their knowledge or permission - meaning that the mayors in question never joined the organization at all.

For example, “Mayor Robert Shiner” (Mentor, OH) was listed in a letter from MAIG to Congress in June 2009 as opposing reforms to the BATF&E, as well as in a full page advertisement opposing nationwide reciprocity of concealed handgun licenses.

However, Council President Shiner hasn’t been Mayor since November 2008. His office says he never agreed to be a MAIG member. Despite requesting to be removed from MAIG’s membership list in July, Shiner was still listed by MAIG as the Mayor of Mentor, and as a member of MAIG, until just recently.

Mayor Keith Hoffman (East Berlin, OH) said his participation resulted from a misunderstanding of the group’s objectives, and he is currently trying to get his name off the list. “It was a mistake, really,” he said, “They swindle you in and then put your name on the list.”

Mayor Dale Strasser (Brunswick, OH) found his name used in MAIG advertising when it was actually the Brunswick city manager, Robert Zienkowski, who signed up for the group.

According to the NRA, at least 28 other mayors have appeared on the MAIG membership list despite the fact they were not mayors of the localities as advertised.

The MAIG website at this writing still listed some mayors as being members who dispute their listing, meaning either that they were misled by the Bloomberg organization or who may have been added to the membership list against their will or without their knowledge.

The NRA is working with (among others) the Buckeye Firearms Association (BFA) of Ohio to help vet the MAIG member list. BFA’s Vice Chairman, Chad Baus commented, “Any organization can make occasional errors. But when this many people quit an organization or say they never joined in the first place, it raises serious questions.”

Massachusetts Governor Takes Aim at Machine Gun Shoots

In Massachusetts, a state with cradle to grave government control over resident’s lives, new regulations being proposed by Governor Deval Patrick would effectively end shooting competitions as well as machine gun shoots in the Bay State.

The proposals would require gun clubs to obtain special licenses, a police detail, and have one certified firearms safety instructor for every 20 attendees (or one for every five attendees of children are present) at all shooting events that are open to nonmembers. Additionally, clubs would be required to submit a safety plan to the local police department 30-days before each public event. Finally, public machine gun shoots would be banned. The proposals are a reaction to the tragic death of an 8-year-old boy who accidentally killed himself with an Uzi machine pistol at a gun club event in Westfield, Mass. in October 2008.

A spokesman for the state Executive Office of Public Safety and Security said these regulations are aimed at improving gun safety. Having a trained instructor and police detail present, the spokesman says, will add a few layers of protection for participants and observers at gun events.

Gun Clubs say the regulations would make it financially impossible to continue with events that are open to non-members - such as shooting competitions, gun safety classes, and special programs for women. The presence of police officers (for which the club would have to pay) could intimidate participants and create a negative perception about the shoots. Having to write safety plans could also prove to be a logistical nightmare for the clubs.

Approximately 150 persons attended a public hearing this past summer to voice their opposition to the governor’s proposals, and more than 50 state legislators have signed a letter to the governor stating that the proposed rules will put a burden on organizations that provide firearm safety education.

“I understand that there was a tragedy, but the regulations as proposed are very overreaching, and would pretty much shut down any gun course across the state, because it would make it cost-prohibitive to run any gun practice or shoot,” said representative George Peterson, a Republican from Grafton who is leading the effort against the regulations. Speaking against the machine gun shoot ban, he added, “If I own an automatic firearm that I am licensed for, why shouldn’t I be able to use it on a range? Fact of the matter is 99 percent of the time there’s never been a problem.”

“Let the NRA Pay”

John Rosenthal, chairman of Stop Handgun Violence, a Massachusetts-based anti-gun group, said the new rules, including prohibiting machine guns from public events, “make perfect sense.”

Rosenthal says that gun clubs’ events will not go away if the regulations are adopted. The National Rifle Association has vast resources to help out with expenses for police details, he said. “If the events are popular and worthwhile, they will take place even if it costs a little bit more to ensure safety,” he said.

Jim Wallace, Executive Director of the Gun Owners’ Action League, said the governor has deep pockets too. “If the governor wants something, let him pay for it,” Wallace declared. “It’s time that the state of Massachusetts starts paying for the absurd regulations that it has in place.”

Massachusetts regulates all firearms and requires those who hope to obtain a license to own a firearm to complete a firearms safety course or a hunter training course. Local police chiefs can arbitrarily deny a handgun license or require an individual to submit reference letters before issuing a license. Police chiefs can even arbitrarily deny permits for gun shops to continue to operate and to prevent new gun shops from opening according to their personal preferences, leading to an environment ripe for corruption.

A spokesman for the governor said the new proposed rules are not a response to the Westfield accident per se, but a comprehensive package to create a “safer” environment for those who use guns. “These were reforms that needed to be made,” he said. “They are just overdue.”

The author publishes two of the small arms industry’s most widely read trade newsletters. The International Firearms Trade covers the world firearms scene, and The New Firearms Business covers the domestic market. Visit www.FirearmsGroup.com. He may be reached at: FirearmsB@aol.com.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V13N5 (February 2010)
and was posted online on May 4, 2012


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