Gun Makers Fight ‘Impossible’ California Requirement

Courthouse News – by Nathan Solis

LOS ANGELES (CN) – The challenge of a California law requiring gun manufacturers to implement technology that may not yet exist landed at the California Supreme Court on Wednesday, raising questions about potentially impossible rules and standards.

Since 2013, California’s Unsafe Handgun Act requires two identifying microstamps be placed on a cartridge when a bullet is fired.  

The microstamping standard has whittled down the list of guns the state deems safe for residents to legally purchase, according to the gun industry.

Furthermore, the National Shooting Sports Foundation said in a lawsuit filed in 2014, the technology isn’t there. The case was dismissed in 2015 by a state court judge, who said concerns about inability to comply with the statute are for the Legislature – not the courts – to handle.

But an appellate panel ruled gun manufacturers do have a right to try and prove that they could not comply with the law.

On Wednesday, the foundation’s attorney Lance Selfridge with Lewis Brisbois Bisgarrd and Smith told the Supreme Court justices that dual placement of micro-stamps is impossible. He compared the statute to one of raising the dead and the creating an impossible standard for health care providers to follow.

But arguing for the state, attorney Janill Richards said the law is meant as incentive for the gun manufacturing industry. She noted it’s the Legislature’s prerogative to ask industry to look at new technology and used the federal Clean Air Act as an example.

Justice Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar asked Selfriedge if the high court decides the microstamping requirement is binding on the gun industry, then what impossible means in that context.

Selfridge answered that it’s impossible under current technology, to which Justice Ming Chin followed up by asking if dual microstamping might be possible in the future.

Perhaps, said Selfridge, in the way that Leonard da Vinci had conceived of the helicopter concept hundreds of years before they existed.

Justice Goodwin Liu asked another hypothetical question, about advanced motorcycle helmets that are expensive and required to operate a motorcycle in California. Liu noted many people are priced out of owning a motorcycle because of the helmet’s price tag, and asked if that law is also invalid as a result.

Selfridge responded that an expense does not make something impossible, leading Liu to press: “How much has been spent on developing dual-placement microstamping technology?”

Selfridge said he didn’t know.

Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye said a lot of accomplishments would never have happened if those responsible for them had applied the gun industry’s logic.

“I’m having a hard time understanding impossible. In the sense that it’s never been tried or demonstrated, that it has failed and that it is hopelessly futile,” she asked. “What’s wrong with getting there? What’s wrong with having that hearing with experts?”

Selfridge said the goal for the gun manufacturers is to have a new trial where they can present expert testimony on available technology and what is possible.

The justices did not indicate when they would rule.

Courthouse News

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