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March 1, 2014
Viewpoints: New microstamping law comes at the expense of improving consumer safety

guns.JPG(March 1 - By Lawrence Keane, Special to The Bee)

A new California law is preventing consumers from being able to buy the best, ever more reliable models of pistols available, unless the manufacturer microstamps the make, model and serial number in two locations on the gun. In theory, the information would be imprinted on a cartridge casing when the gun is fired. New and improved models not equipped to microstamp are now considered "unsafe" under California law.

But, as several independent, peer-reviewed studies have shown, this nascent technology is flawed. It is incapable of reliably, consistently and legibly imprinting the required identifying information in two locations on an expended cartridge casing. Even the patent holder in a 2012 study he co-authored acknowledged the problems with this technology and called for further study rather than mandating its use. A National Academy of Science review, forensic firearms examiners and a UC Davis study reached similar conclusions. Because of the technology's inherent limitations, no manufacturer can comply with this new law.

What the Legislature actually did was ban the innovation and stop the continuous improvement of today's manufacturing processes that would otherwise enhance firearms safety and other functionality.

Compounding the problem is the state attorney general's overreaching definition of what constitutes a "new model," thus triggering the microstamping requirement. According to the attorney general, the slightest modification or design enhancement done as part of the normal manufacturing process for any product, such as changing the way a part is made or its dimensions to make it stronger and more durable, is a "new model," which would now require microstamping. As a result, pistol models deemed as "not unsafe" by California are rapidly falling off the approved-for-sale roster.

While it's true that firearms owners can be just as responsible with pistol models currently in the market, innovation and continuous improvement have always been an important driver for all manufacturers, including those that manufacture firearms and related accessories.

Notable manufacturers such as Smith & Wesson and Sturm, Ruger & Co., have announced they cannot bring their newest products into the California handgun market; and the ripple effect goes beyond those law-abiding citizens purchasing these pistols for home defense or sport shooting. The firearms industry provides nearly 25,000 jobs in California, paying an average of more than $50,000 a year. The economic impact will extend further than jobs and consumer spending.

The firearms industry is responsible for more than $3.6 billion in economic activity in California, generating more than $251 million in state taxes, as well as an additional $281 million in federal taxes.

Recently, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the trade association for firearms, ammunition, hunting and shooting sports industry, filed suit against the state of California. It is seeking to enjoin enforcement of this new law so law-abiding California citizens can purchase the latest pistols that are available to consumers in other states. Unless the court blocks enforcement of this ill-considered mandate, citizens in California will only be able to choose from a shrinking list of older models.

Is this California's idea of improving consumer safety?

Lawrence Keane is senior vice president and assistant secretary and general counsel for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the trade association for the firearms industry.