Sweeping new gun laws passed last year by California voters and legislators require those with magazines capable of holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition to get rid of them by July 1.
The question is: How many of California’s 6 million-plus gun owners are actually going to comply, even though violators face potential jail time if they’re caught?
Talk to gun owners, retailers and pro-gun sheriffs across California and you’ll get something akin to an eye roll when they’re asked if gun owners are going to voluntarily part with their property because Democratic politicians and voters who favor gun control outnumber them and changed the law.
In conservative, pro-gun Redding this week, Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko joked that gun owners were lining the block to hand their magazines in to the sheriff’s office (In reality, no one has turned one in). He said his deputies won’t be aggressively hunting for large-capacity magazines starting next month.
“We’re not going to be knocking on anybody’s door looking for them,” Bosenko said. “We’re essentially making law-abiding citizens into criminals with this new law.”
California banned the sale of high-capacity detachable magazines in 2000, but it remained legal to possess them, except in cities such as San Francisco, Oakland, Los Angeles and Sunnyvale that enacted local bans. That changed this fall when voters and lawmakers passed overlapping gun laws that require Californians, with limited exceptions, to give up any magazine capable of holding more than 10 rounds. Sometimes incorrectly called “clips,” magazines are the part inserted into a gun that holds ammunition and can be quickly popped in and out for rapid reloading.
Gun-control advocates say getting rid of magazines that make shooters capable of firing a rapid volley of bullets in a matter of seconds will reduce threats to police and make it harder for gunmen to kill as many people in mass shootings.
“There’s just a lot of data that shows that large-capacity magazines are particularly attractive to mass shooters and to individuals committing crimes against law enforcement,” said Ari Freilich, staff attorney for the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, one the backers of Proposition 63, the gun-control initiative that California voters passed last fall. “They do not have legitimate self-defense value.”
In a pending lawsuit challenging the ban, Chuck Michel, a prominent gun-rights attorney in Long Beach, disagreed.
“The reason for the popularity of these magazines is straightforward: In a confrontation with a violent attacker, having enough ammunition can be the difference between life and death,” he wrote. “Banning magazines over ten rounds is no more likely to reduce criminal abuse of guns than banning high horsepower engines is likely to reduce criminal abuse of automobiles.”
Magazines sales were never tracked and owners weren’t required to register them, so it’s not clear how many remain in circulation. Gun rights advocates say there could be potentially hundreds of thousands of them in California gun owners’ homes.
Many types of handguns sold in California prior to 2000 came with detachable magazines that held more than 10 rounds. Large-capacity magazines also were widely collected and used by owners of semiautomatic rifles. These include the controversial – but hugely popular – AR-style rifles. Similar magazines also have long been popular with owners of Ruger’s 10/22, a ubiquitous .22 caliber rifle used by target shooters and small-game hunters nationwide.
The law provides no state funds to compensate owners for their magazines, and there’s no way to track whether gun owners give them up.
The law does give California gun owners several options to get rid of their magazines, including moving them out of state, turning them into law enforcement, selling them to a licensed dealer or destroying them by July 1. Some gun shops also are offering to permanently modify magazines to make them legal.
Even the staunchest pro-gun sheriffs, including Bosenko, the Shasta County sheriff, say they’ll be more than happy to tack a magazine-possession charge on to a drug dealer’s or a gang member’s rap sheet should deputies catch them with a high-capacity magazine.
“This is one more thing we can add to their charges, absolutely,” said Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims, an opponent of the law.
Voluntary compliance among otherwise law-abiding gun owners is another matter.
California cities with local ordinances haven’t had very many gun owners hand magazines in to police, though officers have removed some from circulation during the course of their investigations. The Los Angeles Police Department, for instance, seized nearly 9,000 magazines since it enacted a ban in 2015. Almost of all those magazines came from a cache police found inside a home of a gun collector who died in 2015. The department said it doesn’t track how many citizens voluntarily turned theirs in.
As of late last year, the City of Sunnyvale had six cases in which people handed in their magazines since the city enacted its ordinance in 2013, said Capt. Shawn Ahearn.
Adam Winkler, a professor at UCLA School of Law who writes about Second Amendment issues, said gun owners ignore local ordinances banning magazines, a trend he expects to continue with a statewide ban.
“We see no compliance from gun owners,” he said. “As best as we can tell, no gun owners are giving up their high capacity magazines or selling them out of state.”
Gun control advocates such as Freilich said that because there’s no way to track magazines, gun owners living in cities with bans could have been getting rid of them through other means.
But Second Amendment advocates say that’s highly unlikely. They say gun owners just became more discrete.
“Why would you (get rid of them)?” said Christopher Lapinski, operations manager of Last Stand Tactical on Florin Road in Sacramento. “You have your Fourth Amendment, which is the right to due process. You can’t just take something away from somebody that they own without violating the Fourth Amendment.”
Some gun owners say they’re hanging on to their magazines in the hopes pending court challenges will block the ban. They also hope the federal government will become friendlier toward gun owners under the Trump Administration.
“We think that we will be successful in the long run,” said Sam Paredes, executor director of Gun Owners of California.
A federal judge in San Diego is expected to decide whether to issue an injunction blocking the ban before July 1. A federal judge in Sacramento recently declined to issue a temporary restraining order in a similar case.
Freilich said that even if the San Diego judge blocks the ban, he’s optimistic gun control-advocates will win on appeal, since numerous courts have sided with states and local governments that have enacted similar restrictions.
“(Courts) have consistently found (high-capacity magazines) are properly considered dangerous and unusual weapons,” Freilich said. “They are weapons of war that do not receive Second Amendment protections.”
The magazine ban isn’t the only pending law California’s gun owners face under the new gun regulations.
Starting in January, Californians who want to buy ammunition online or through catalogs will have to ship their purchases through a licensed dealer. In July 2019, ammunition buyers will have to undergo background checks at retailers. Under the existing rules, anyone age 18 or older (21 or older for handguns) can buy ammunition without a background check, and sellers need no special training or license.
Many California gun owners say they are stocking up on ammunition in advance of the restrictions, which they fear will lead to shortages, especially for rural shooters and hunters who have limited shopping options. Some had feared ammunition retailers such as Walmart would get out of the ammunition business rather than go through with the new licensing process.
But Walmart spokesman Charles Crowson said Wednesday the company was in the process of updating its “systems and processes to comply with the law.”
National ammunition sales have steadied since the Trump administration took office, but it’s a different story in California, said Alan Davis, a spokesman for the Wideners.com, an online ammunition retailer based in Tennessee.
“If you consider the percent of our overall orders that ‘normally’ ship to California, the state is up about 50 percent relative to the country as a whole,” Davis said in an email.
Some of the state’s largest cities – including Sacramento, San Francisco, Oakland and Los Angeles – already impose restrictions on mail-order ammunition sales.
Ryan Sabalow: 916-321-1264, @ryansabalow