by Allen Martin and Abigail Sterling

VACAVILLE (KPIX 5) — Tens of thousands of gun owners in California are in legal limbo because of the state’s newly expanded assault weapons ban. It all has to do with delays in implementing the law, which no one wants to take responsibility for.

For years, AR-15s have been the weapon of choice at the “Guns Fishing and Other Stuff” gun store and shooting range in Vacaville.

Owner Travis Morgan says this year, it’s different.

Part 2: Enterprising Gun Makers Create Workarounds To New Assault Weapon Ban

“Nobody is sure what it’s going to be, how it’s going to be. They all kind of just slowed down buying,” he said.

That’s because a new law makes many of the guns he once sold, and that many of his customers still use, illegal.

Until this year AR rifles equipped with so-called bullet buttons were exempt from California’s assault weapons ban even though they have a detachable magazine along with all the features of a military-style gun.

That’s because you need a tool, usually a bullet, to release the magazine rather than just the push of a finger, making them slower to reload.

But that didn’t slow down the San Bernardino shooters in December of 2015. Armed with modified bullet button ARs they managed to gun down 36 people in the span of three minutes.

So lawmakers in Sacramento took action, closing what the Department of Justice now calls a “loophole” in the law.

Now bullet button ARs are considered assault weapons.

They can no longer be bought or sold, though people who lawfully owned one before the start of this year can keep it if they register it.

“This law had been out before and last time Gov. Brown vetoed it. This time he didn’t. He’s a lame duck this season. He can’t run again. So he signed it,” said Travis Morgan.

There are thousands, if not tens of thousands, of legally owned ARs in California right now.

Beginning January 1, 2018, an AR with a bullet button is either going to have to be modified or registered with the state to remain legal.

The problem is you can’t even register an AR right now.

“They don’t know how to implement these laws,” said Craig Deluz with the Firearms Policy Coalition, a group that lobbies for gun owner rights in California.

He says the new law requires the Department of Justice to come up with new regulations before it can open up an electronic registration system. But so far the agency has failed to do that. That’s leaving law abiding gun owners who want to register but can’t in a Catch 22.

“At the very end of December, on the eve of New Years Eve, they tried to sneak the regulations past the public through the administrative process, with no public input whatsoever. When they found out they weren’t going to be able to get away with that they pulled them back,” said Deluz.

But Ari Freilich, staff attorney for the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, says it’s the other way around.

“Unfortunately the gun lobby has used their typical delay tactics,” he said.

Freilich blames push-back from the gun lobby, including threats of lawsuits, for the delay.

“The California legislature specifically passed a law to say that California’s Department of Justice does not have to go through the rigmarole of public comment and red tape every time they want to develop regulations about registering assault weapons,” said Freilich.

KPIX 5 spoke to Attorney General Xavier Becerra, the man in charge of implementing the state’s new assault weapons law, at a recent event.

We asked him: A lot of gun owners are complaining they can’t register them and the holdup is within your office. How do you answer those complaints?

He said, “We will issue regulations. They have been a little delayed, and because of the transition in Attorney Generals it did take a little longer. But we are going to make sure that the process is one that is respectful of responsible gun owners,” said Becerra.

Back in Vacaville, Travis Morgan isn’t holding his breath and he says neither are his customers.

“A lot of guys are going toward a featureless gun,” he said.

He now sells modified ARs, stripped of military style features like a collapsible stock, flash suppressor or forward pistol grip, that are no longer considered assault weapons.

“That way you don’t have to register it, you’ve got your gun and you’re done,” he said.

Not only that, he says they’re faster than ever to reload, because without those features you don’t even need the bullet button.

Meanwhile there’s late word from Sacramento that the deadline for registering bullet button ARs will most likely be pushed back to July 1st of 2018, because of the registration delays.

Comments (21)
  1. Rich Seibert says:

    New Yorks 1,000,000 new illegal gun owners..

    One million plus new felons, all armed with scary, high capacity, media labeled assault weapons!

    The deadline for New York residents to register their so called “Assault Weapons” and “High” (read standard) Capacity Magazines came and went.

    An estimated million plus, formerly law abiding, gun owners have refused to comply with Cuomo and down state Democrat’s naive belief that the NY Safe Act, passed in a so called emergency session of the New York legislature, could force free people to register their hard earned property.

    And who can blame these once lawful gun owners, with a president that picks and chooses which laws he will follow or enforce, as well as an Federal Attorney General that operates daily with a Contempt of Congress charge and gun running scandal, “Fast & Furious”, hanging over his head. Why should the average New York joe, bother to follow the law, especially when it is in direct conflict with the Constitution of the United States, the one true law of the land.

  2. Mark Farris says:

    Can this be called fake new if the term “modified bullet button AR-s” used to describe the San Bernardino attack is incorrect and they put a standard magazine release in illegally after getting the guns from a friend illegally too?

    1. As it happened, EXACTLY the right “attack” occurred, at just the right time, to enable them to slide this bill neatly into place, just in the nick of time to prop up this law! Golly there sure are an awful lot of coincidences when it comes to ramming gun bills through to law. And now that “evil assault rifles” are registered, or supposed to be, here’s what happens next: Within 6 months to a year tops, and by amazing coincidence, there will be another “attack” by one, or probably two shooters armed with “assault rifles”, probably a Sandy Hook style atrocity for that added shove to fast-track it through the rubber-stamping state legislature. (They know they can’t unleash the door-kickers to do a mass crackdown, since the courts and prisons won’t be able to hold all the gun law violators). And state legislature will CONFISCATE all the registered guns. Coming in 2018/2019.The time for any freedom loving Americans, to exit this (POLICE) state, is yesterday. Because it’s nowhere but downhill for this state, folks.

  3. Barry Hirsh says:

    Hang in there, Californians. This BS is going away, FOR GOOD, as soon as a ripe case reaches the SCOTUS.

  4. The whole concept of classifying a weapon as an assault rifle because of how it looks it stupid beyond belief.

  5. At least criminals aren’t affected. That would have been terrible if the felons, thugs, and other criminals had laws like this directed them.

  6. DISGUSTING! CA will gives drivers licenses to criminals but will not respect the constitution this country was founded on. They protect killers over average citizens and that is disgusting!

  7. California Democrats are insane in oh so many ways – but when it comes to guns, they will not rest until they either somehow ban the sale of ammo (.223,) or make residents register all their guns every year and pay huge fees -like the DMV- so they can fund their 11 million welfare recipients, 3 million illegal aliens and 2 million refugees dumped here by Obama. That is their real goal, revenue generation for ammo and guns.

  8. Scott Johnson says:

    They are off by several zeros as to how many of us are now “felons”. There are not “thousands or tens of thousands” of AR’s, it’s the most popular sporting rifle in decades. It’s only because none of the liberals know the difference between a trigger and a magazine would they underestimate the population that dramatically. There are well over 1 million AR’s in California.

  9. Explain to me like I’m a 5 year old why we need to own guns used in the Vietnam War through Desert Storm that did so much damage that the pictures of the wounds weren’t even declassified until the 1980s. Why do you need to own a weapon that SWAT and ATF agents aren’t allowed to use indoors because the high-velocity rounds will go through the perp, through the wall behind the perp, and kill an innocent on the other side of the wall? And explain to me like I’m 5 how a teacher with a Glock with a 170 foot range and upward recoil will takeout a gunman with an AR-15 with a 1300 foot range (about a quarter mile) and fully horizontal recoil. Signed–born and raised for responsible gun ownership.

    1. No it’s not the same gun, just the same size bullet cartridge, and is also made with plastic. In closely built buildings (like in schools) the range to a target is really short. Several teachers in the buildings armed with pistols would be very good. Teachers are strong and brave, and can protect children too.

  10. Where can I find a list of pistols and semi-auto rifles grandfathered in past the micro-stamping and unfireable-without-magazine requirements?