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Gun flight: Smith & Wesson, Ruger quit California over stamping requirement

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FILE: Undated: A model 1911 pistol is held in the hands of an assembler at the Smith & Wesson factory in Springfield, Mass.

A new gun law proponents say helps law enforcement has driven Smith & Wesson and Sturm Ruger out of California, and affirmed the suspicions of firearms rights advocates that the measure is really about making handguns obsolete.

The two companies have announced they will stop selling their wares in the nation's most populous state rather than try to comply with a law that requires some handguns to have technology that imprints a tiny stamp on the bullet so it can be traced back to the gun. The companies, and many gun enthusiasts, say so-called "microstamping" technology is unworkable in its present form and can actually impair a gun's performance.

“Smith & Wesson does not and will not include microstamping in its firearms,” the Springfield, Mass.,-based manufacturer said in a statement. “A number of studies have indicated that microstamping is unreliable, serves no safety purpose, is cost prohibitive and, most importantly, is not proven to aid in preventing or solving crimes.”

"This is the latest attempt to undermine the Second Amendment in California by politicians with little to no knowledge of firearms ... "

- Chuck Michel, National Rifle Association

“The microstamping mandate and the company’s unwillingness to adopt this so-called technology will result in a diminishing number of Smith & Wesson semi-automatic pistols available for purchase by California residents.”

Southport, Conn.-based Sturm Ruger also announced this month that they will also stop selling their guns in California due to the microstamping law.

Firearm microstamping, or ballistic imprinting, works by engraving a microscoping marking onto the tip of the firing pin. When the gun is fired, it leaves an imprint, usually of a serial number, on the bullet casings. The telltale mark theoretically allows law enforcement investigators to trace the bullet to the registered gun owner. California’s law is the first in the nation to be implemented and was originally signed into effect in October 2007, but not implemented until recently. Several other states are considering similar measures.

Law-enforcement is exempt from microstamping requirements.

Critics say tracing a bullet to a registered gun owner does little to fight crime, since criminals often kill with stolen handguns. Many believe tracing bullets was never the real intent of the law in the first place.

"This is the latest attempt to undermine the Second Amendment in California by politicians with little to no knowledge of firearms, who seek to impose their liberal values upon those who choose to protect their families with the constitutional right to own a handgun," said Chuck Michel, West Coast Counsel for the National Rifle Association, an Adjunct Professor at Chapman University and author of the book "California Gun Laws."

One of the main arguments critics pose is the claim that the technology is not perfected, yet the requirement has been put into effect.

“The technology doesn’t fully exist yet, but by making it into a law, they [California] in fact enacted a gun law without actually passing one,” David Kopel, a constitutional law professor at the Denver University Sturm College of Law and Research Director of the Independence Institute, told FoxNews.com. “This is an indirect way to ban new handguns from being sold.”

The patent holder of microstamping tech, Todd Lizotte, was part of a Department of Justice study team which concluded that, “legitimate questions exist related to both the technical aspects, production costs, and database management associated with microstamping that should be addresses before wide scale implementation is legislatively mandated,” according to the study which was published in the Association of Firearm and Toolmark Examiners (AFTE) Journal.

Lawsuits were also filed against the Golden State this week by the National Shooting Sports Foundation and the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute challenging the microstamping law saying in a statement this week that they predicted back in 2007 when the law was first passed that it would result in a “de facto semiautomatic handgun ban.”

Other states considering a microstamping requirement include Connecticut, New York, and Massachusetts.

Smith & Wesson said it expects sales of its California-compliant revolvers, which aren't required to have microstamping, will offset the impact to the company. Company President and CEO James Debney vowed to continue to work with industry groups to oppose the law, while providing California customers with products that do comply with it.

Two trade groups, the National Shooting Sports Foundation and the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers Institute, filed a legal challenge to the law in California Superior Court earlier this month.

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