Add a date to your calendar…January 1, 2018.
That’s California’s deadline to register any and all weapons that fall within the new and improved “evil feature” qualifications to achieve assault weapon status.
California has new assault weapon registration legislation? Again?
If you live in California and own or are planning to buy a semi-automatic rifle, read on to stay compliant and avoid registering your guns as “assault weapons.”
Disclaimer: This is not legal advice and I’m not a lawyer, always double-check everything with one!
What does SB 880 say I have to do?
The good news is that you get to keep your weapon as long as you already have it.
The bad news is that if your gun fits the revised and expanded description, you get to pay a little fee—$20—for the privilege of registering it as a recognized assault weapon with the Department of Justice.
The additional bad news is that as of January 1, 2017—another date—all the rules for assault weapon purchases and transfers apply to weapons that now qualify thanks to SB 880.
*Update August 1, 2017* CA Attorney General Xavier Becerra successfully pushed the new DOJ regulations through the Office of Administrative Law. For more details, check out the CEO of Survivor System’s write-up here.
How did SB 880 change California’s definition of assault weapons?
In the past, certain features have conferred the label assault weapon on semiautomatic pistols or semiautomatic centerfire firearms.
Generally, California considered a firearm an assault weapon if it had the capacity to accept a detachable magazine and one of a number of features:
- Pistol grips
- Forward pistol grips
- Thumbhole stocks
- Telescoping or collapsible stocks
- Threaded barrels, flash suppressors or silencers
- Barrel shrouds
- Grenade or flare launchers
That first little condition, however—a detachable magazine—is what SB 880 and a lot of the fuss are primarily about.
You say, “No problem, dude. Mine’s got a bullet button. It’s not detachable.”
I say, “Not so fast.”
Before, as long as you needed a tool to release your magazine—and yeah, a bullet qualified—it wasn’t considered detachable, and your weapon wasn’t of the assault variety.
But, California changed the condition so that basically any semiautomatic pistol or semiautomatic centerfire firearm that lacks a fixed magazine is now an assault weapon.
The bill states that the fixed magazine must be a “feeding device contained in, or permanently attached to, a firearm in such a manner that the device cannot be removed without disassembly of the firearm action.”
So, does a bullet button now make my semiautomatic an assault weapon?
Short answer—it depends.
For a firearm to have a fixed magazine, the language of the law demands that you must have to disassemble the firearm action to remove the magazine.
If you can remove and replace the magazine without disassembling or removing the receiver or bolt, for example, then you are now the proud owner of an assault weapon that must be registered and henceforth treated and handled as exactly that.
What happens once I register my gun as an assault weapon?
Once a gun becomes a registered assault weapon, it’s yours and yours only until death do you part for as long as you and it remains in the state of California.
- If you die first, your heir will have just 90 days to send it out of the state of California, render it inoperable forever or surrender it for law enforcement destruction.
- You cannot transfer it to anyone before you die—not even a family member.
- You cannot lend it to anyone—not your 17-year-old nephew (under the legal age for an assault weapon), not your best friend (not immediate family), not your neighbor or co-worker (just no).
- You’ll need a gunsmith who holds an assault weapon permit. Otherwise, you’ll have to remain with your gun during repairs or adjustments. Think about it. Schedule. Wait. Repeat.
- If you get tired of all the restrictions and want to sell it, you’re limited to negotiating with licensed gun dealers with DOJ permits allowing them to buy assault weapons or lawfully transporting the assault weapon—unloaded in a locked hard case—out of California.
There are more details, of course, but those are the high points.
Violate any of them, and you can find yourself a felon in the pokey for 16 to 36 months, with some nice fines to boot.
*Update August 2017* The link to register your assault weapon is up if you’re in a hurry.
What if I don’t want to register my gun?
Well, I’m not a lawyer, but the law says that if you fail to register a qualifying weapon by the deadline, you’re looking at a felony and up to a year in the county pen.
So, if you want to keep your firearm and remain in California, you basically have three options.
- You can comply and register your assault weapon.
- You can retrofit your firearm with a bullet button that requires disassembling the firearm action, therefore disqualifying your gun as an assault weapon.
- You can retrofit your firearm to a featureless build option that will ensure that your semiautomatic firearm is not an assault weapon.
Just keep in mind that you must either register or retrofit by that January 1, 2018 deadline.
If you can’t retrofit by the deadline, you’ll still have to register, but as things stand now, you should be able to unregister later once you remove the qualifying features.
What is this featureless build of which you speak?
Well, I have an entire article devoted exclusively to the featureless build for an AR type weapon, and you can find it here.
But, essentially, a featureless build allows you to have a really nice, fully functioning firearm just like you want but with no objectionable parts to render it an assault weapon.
For this build…A is not a flash hider, B is not a pistol grip, and C is not an adjustable stock.
You see, it’s still legal in California to build your own gun.
You can’t, cannot, must not build an assault weapon, but you can build a gun that is featureless or—as I like to think of it—sugar-free, non-GMO, guilt-free, non-evil . . . whatever.
Since SB 880’s main new concern is banning detachable magazines, I’ll deal with the featureless bullet button issue first.
Can a gun with “features” have a bullet button that actually works like a bullet button?
There are some new bullet buttons that will allow your gun to keep its “evil features.”
My favorite so far is the AR Maglock with the Patriot Pin.
Check out my full review.
Yeah, it’s slower. Yeah, you still have to break open the gun, but it’s a partial takedown that’s better than the alternative.
Okay, okay! I get it, but if I want to retrofit or do a featureless build, exactly what does SB 880 prohibit?
Well, it’s not a prohibition per se.
The better question to ask is, “Exactly, by weapon type, what will California SB 880 call an assault weapon?”
So, here we go.
What about semiautomatic rifles under California SB 880?
You have an assault weapon if your semiautomatic, centerfire rifle doesn’t have a fixed magazine but does have any one of these options:
- A conspicuous pistol grip.
- A thumbhole stock.
- A folding or telescoping stock.
- A grenade or flare launcher.
- A flash suppressor.
- A forward pistol grip.
- A fixed magazine with the capacity to accept more than 10 rounds.
- An overall length of fewer than 30 inches.
Again…here’s my article on how to do a featureless build.
What about semiautomatic pistols under California SB 880?
You have an assault weapon if your semiautomatic pistol doesn’t have a fixed magazine but does have any one of these options:
- A threaded barrel capable of accepting a flash suppressor, forward handgrip or silencer.
- A second handgrip.
- An encircling barrel shroud—partial or total—to protect the bearer’s hands, except a slide that encloses the barrel.
- Capacity to accept a detachable magazine at a location outside of the pistol grip.
- A fixed magazine with the capacity to accept more than 10 rounds.
What about AR and AK pistols under California SB 880?
AR and AK pistols weren’t exactly easy to buy in California even before SB 880, and the new law doesn’t make them any easier to get.
Okay, first off, AR pistols are designed with a shroud to protect the shooter’s hand, which is a “feature” that makes them assault weapons in California. Cuz those barrels can get hot!
So you’ll have to register them or add a new bullet button that (we hope) is compliant with SB 880…one that requires you to disassemble the action to insert a fresh mag.
AK pistols don’t have shrouds, so strike one off the list of evil features that require you to register with the DOJ. On the other hand, there aren’t any CA-compliant bullet buttons for AK pistols on the market yet.
*2018 Update*: Found one with MagLatch AK.
If you own an AK pistol or want to buy one, you’ll have to register it as an assault weapon, move it out of state, sell it, or refit it with a CA-compliant bullet button before January 1, 2018.
What about shotguns under California SB 880?
Shotguns have three qualifying variations.
First, you have an assault weapon if your semiautomatic shotgun has the capability to accept a detachable magazine.
Second, you have an assault weapon if your semiautomatic shotgun has a folding or telescoping stock and one of the following:
- A conspicuous pistol grip
- A thumbhole stock
- A vertical handgrip
Third, you have an assault weapon if your shotgun has a revolving cylinder.
Are any guns exempt from California SB 880?
The exemptions are the usual suspects: antique firearms and a list of pistols “consistent with the significant public purpose” “sanctioned by the International Olympic Committee and by USA Shooting”…basically varieties of Benelli, Hammerli, Pardini, and Walther.
When is too late too late under California SB 880 deadlines?
You had to have already owned your assault weapon-qualifying firearm prior to January 1, 2017.
If you didn’t already have one before then, now is too late. You’ll have to settle for a featureless or new bullet button build.
If you don’t want to register and instead want to refit your qualifying firearm or remove qualifying features, you have until January 1, 2018, to do so.
If you cannot or choose not to refit or disqualify your weapon yet wish to keep it within California state lines, you must register it by January 1, 2018, or face the consequences.
So, do the right thing, whichever option that means for you.
That way, we can keep on visiting—and leveling up—here at Pew Pew Tactical.
Or…become more depressed since AB 880 wasn’t the only part of CA’s Gunmageddon group of laws.