Gun rights advocates in California are preparing to file a series of lawsuits challenging voter- and legislature-approved gun control measures in what could be the opening salvo in a prolonged legal battle over the state’s latest firearms restrictions.
The legal action is meant to challenge the California Department of Justice’s regulations for six gun control measures enacted by the Legislature this year, and for Proposition 63, which voters approved in November.
The laws will institute requirements such as reporting of lost firearms, require background checks for ammunition purchases, and ban ownership of magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition. Some regulations already have taken effect, and the implementation of others is staggered through 2019.
“It’s difficult to say whether we will be able to get some relief before the laws takes effect,” said Chuck Michel, a Second Amendment lawyer representing the National Rifle Association and the California Rifle and Pistol Association in the pending lawsuits.
“We are trying to do them as quickly as we can, but you have to do it in a way that doesn’t get you thrown out of because it’s not timely,” he said.
Mr. Michel said his law firm was primed to file a lawsuit this week over regulations issued by the California Department of Justice that outlined how the state’s gun owners could register assault weapons under the state’s new definition of the firearms.
However, the regulations, which were drafted without any public input, were withdrawn Friday by the state Justice Department. A spokesperson for the agency did not return calls seeking comment on the reason for the withdrawal.
Mr. Michel said he will have to wait for the state to issue final regulations before they can be reviewed for legal action.
But ahead of the implementation date of some of the new laws, some gun control supporters are worried that firearms buyers will exploit existing loopholes.
In a preemptive crackdown, San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera filed a lawsuit against five online firearms suppliers last week in a bid to block sales items that will be expressly prohibited to possess under the new laws.
The sale of large-capacity magazines has been banned in the state since 2000, but beginning July 1 anyone who still possesses a high-capacity magazine will be required to either turn it over to police or store it out of state.
The lawsuit claims that the online suppliers, all of which are based outside California, are “blatantly violating California’s prohibition on selling large-capacity magazines” by labeling dissembled large-capacity magazines as “repair kits.”
“These kits are not individual magazine parts to replace, say, a worn-out spring or a cracked baseplate in a lawfully possessed magazine,” the lawsuit states. “Rather, they are the complete parts of disassembled large-capacity magazines packaged under the guise of a ‘kit.’ Purchasers can readily assemble the parts into brand-new, fully functional large-capacity magazines.”
In filing the lawsuit before the ban on possession of the large-capacity magazines takes effect, the city is “being proactive,” said John Cote, a spokesman for the city attorney.
“Studies have shown that when people anticipate new gun laws taking effect, there is an uptick in purchasing,” Mr. Cote said. “We wanted to get out ahead of people buying these items — which are already illegal to purchase in California — and limit the illicit supply making its way into our state.”
The lawsuit alleges that five online retailers are engaging in unfair or fraudulent business practices by telling California and San Francisco consumers that they can lawfully purchase disassembled large-capacity magazines that the sites sell.
The five targeted sellers are Badger Mountain Supply in Washington state, 7.62 Precision in Alaska, Shooters Plus in Mississippi, LAK Supply in Wyoming and Buymilsurp.com in Florida.
Mr. Herrera notes in the lawsuit that large-capacity magazines were used by gunman responsible for several mass shootings — including the massacre carried out by a radicalized Muslim couple in San Bernardino, California, that left 14 people dead and the Orlando nightclub attack in which a gunman radicalized by Islamist propaganda killed 49 people.
“The only purpose of these magazines is to kill as many people as quickly as possible,” Mr. Herrera said. “They have no place in our neighborhoods. That’s why the people of California have spoken loud and clear on this.”
Mr. Cote said his office was unable to provide details on whether the retailers named in the lawsuit actually sold the prohibited items to Californians in violation of the law, saying attorneys “expect to obtain that information as part of the discovery process during litigation.”
A spokesman for 7.62 Precision said the lawsuit appeared to be “nothing more than a political use of the court systems” as the retailer stopped selling the repair kits after California changed its laws.
“Inventory on our website was changed to out of stock, and the item was set as a non-available item,” read a statement from the retailer. “7.62 Precision has always made a strong effort to follow all applicable firearm laws and the item listing had clear disclaimers indicating the purpose for the item and warning customers against using any parts for illegal purposes.”
In a message posted to its website, LAK Supply noted that it would no longer offer magazine parts for sale to any California shipping address.
“We’ve done virtually no business of any type in CA for years at this point, your laws keep becoming more leftist and extreme, and places like the city of SF are more than happy to harass businesses about what kind of parts they sell,” read the statement. “At this point, it’s simply no longer worth the harassment.”
The ban on possession of large-capacity magazines is one of the laws Mr. Michel said his firm plans to challenge on Second Amendment grounds.
Noting that the parts kits can be used for a variety of purposes, Mr. Michel said, San Francisco is simply trying to “have a chilling effect” on gun retailers and buyers.
“The red-taping things to death is absolutely part of their strategy,” he said.