Oppose SB 808

I stand with Firearms Policy Coalition and CAL-FFL in opposition to SB 808 and its retroactive criminalization of lawfully-assembled and possessed firearms.

SB 808 requires gun owners to apply for, and affix, a Department of Justice (DOJ)-provided serial number to ALL un-serialized and otherwise legal firearms made or assembled between December of 1968 and July of 2016, as well as all handguns made or assembled prior to 1968.

Furthermore, recent amendments prohibit the sale or transfer of a homebuilt weapon. This is an effective taking of private property—firearms that are identical in function (if not form) to other firearms that are not prohibited from transfer. There is no legitimate government interest in this abrogation of civil rights.

In complying with the law, a hobbyist would be precluded from handing down a proscribed firearm to their children decades later, while other identical firearms could be without question. With the DOJ’s abysmal track record of database management, it poses a curious problem for them to have to sort out which firearms may be transferred and which may not. Ironically, this is in direct conflict with federal law, which allows for the transfer of a home-built firearm.

Now that the measure’s true colors are apparent, it’s also true that SB 808 will likely chill compliance and spawn a black market, cutting directly against public safety.

There are thousands—likely into the high hundreds of thousands, and perhaps even millions—of personally assembled firearms in California today. SB 808 does not specify how the Department will communicate with lawful gun owners to inform them of their new obligations and criminal liabilities under SB 808. Even if the Department could create and implement such a massive outreach program, SB 808 does not contain a funding mechanism to pay for it. That defect is a terminal one.

Next, SB 808 fails to address the bill’s effects on the DOJ itself. How will the Department administer and make determinations with a massive influx of applications (as would be the case under SB 808) and maintain its other mandated firearms-related services without causing severe and unconstitutional delays?

What will happen to the thousands of law-abiding gun owners who will try to comply with the law, but will no doubt end up waiting for the Department to wade through the mile-high stack of new background checks and serial number applications? Will they be excused from the enforcement of SB 808’s penalties in the interim, or will these good Californians end up further burdening our court system and adding to our already seriously overcrowded prisons?

SB 808 will force law enforcement officers into the role of quasi-scientist and require that they try to identify a firearm’s age, which, in many cases, is impossible. Firearms that have been commonly used for lawful purposes for decades, like AR-15 semi-automatic rifles [or even over a century, such as 1911-platform handguns] fabricated prior to the federal serialization requirement added in 1968 (which applies to licensed commercial manufacturers only) are virtually, if not outright, the same as those that will be made after SB 808 would take effect. There are few, if any, differences or distinguishable characteristics in firearms of the same design manufactured decades apart.

How will law enforcement determine the difference? SB 808 will place well-intentioned peace officers into the compromising position of choosing to not enforce SB 808 or seizing personal property and/or arresting people without any assurances as to the legality of their actions.

This bill creates massive cost liabilities for the state and local governments, which will certainly face civil rights lawsuits on claims of Second, Fourth, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendment violations.

SB 808 also fails to account for the costs necessary for proper law enforcement education (some entity, be it the DOJ or another, will need to inform officers which guns fall into the continually-changing exempted class at any given time).

Finally, many firearms assembled at home hold substantial monetary value for the sheer fact that they are rare or novel replicas of a historically significant gun. Forced destruction of property will undoubtedly lead to thousands of unlawful confiscations and damage claims against the state.

SB 808 adds enormous direct and social costs not limited to the fiscal issues noted above. The bill also presents tangible constitutional conflicts and sets local law enforcement up for expensive litigation and damage awards.

For these and many other reasons, I ask you to VOTE NO on SB 808.

Greg Raven