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A panel of judges from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently held that California could effectively prevent the sale of all new handgun models by imposing requirements for the inclusion of “microstamping” technology, loaded chamber indicators, and magazine disconnect devices on all new models of handguns. “Microstamping” technology uses laser etching on the firing pin or breech face of a firearm to mark every cartridge with the firearm’s make, model, and serial number when it is fired. California argues that this technology is available and would drastically improve public safety by allowing easier tracing of any casing found at crime scenes to the firearms used.

Here is what you need to know:

  • In the case, Pena v. Lindley, plaintiffs (6 individuals and organizations who seek to purchase firearms made illegal under the regulations) alleged that California’s Unsafe Handgun Act (“UHA”) violated their Second Amendment rights, as well their Fourteenth Amendment equal protection rights because the UHA impermissibly restricts the models of handguns that can be legally sold.
  • While plaintiffs’ lawsuit challenged all three requirements of the UHA (namely, mandatory inclusion of “microstamping” technology, loaded chamber indicators, and magazine disconnect devices on all new models of handguns), the panel’s decision centered on the microstamping requirement because no handgun had qualified under the UHA since it was imposed in 2013. All three judges on the panel agreed that the loaded chamber indicators and magazine disconnect mechanisms were constitutional. However, one judge argued that the requirement of “microstamping” technology was too onerous as the testing protocol established for this requirement cannot be met by any firearm manufacturer.
  • In a 2-1 decision, the majority held that the state legislature was authorized to impose “conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms,” accepting the State of California’s argument that microstamping technology exists, but is not being utilized by firearms manufacturers. Specifically, the majority’s opinion stated that requiring new handguns to contain “modern technology” did not impose a substantial burden on gun buyers, and was reasonably related to California’s interests in protecting public safety and tracing cartridge casings at crime scenes.
  • The majority also justified the imposition of this requirement as an “extension” of the requirement for firearms to have a serial number, a requirement that has already been ruled constitutional by the Third Circuit.
It should be noted that the UHA is not retroactive. In other words, models of handguns that had already been approved for sale in California prior to implementation of the UHA’s microstamping requirement can continue to be lawfully sold in California (provided that the manufacturers pay the associated fees and the handguns do not fail a retest).

IRS Circular 230 Disclosure: As required by U.S. Treasury Regulations, we advise you that any tax advice contained in this communication is not intended to be used for, and cannot be used for, the purpose of avoiding penalties under the United States federal tax laws.

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