California micro-stamping law stalled just months before scheduled implementation

By Chad D. Baus

The San Diego Union-Tribune is reporting that, two years after California passed a gun control law requiring the next generation of semi-automatic handguns to leave a microscopic identifying code on spent casings, the controversial technology appears no closer to being introduced in that state, let alone anywhere else.

The story notes that California Attorney General Jerry Brown has not certified the law, which is required before it can take effect as scheduled on January 1, and his aides could not say when that may happen.

Other states that were considering a similar gun control measure instead have pulled back, and similar federal legislation has failed to move.

From the story:

The microstamping process was invented 15 years ago by Todd Lizotte, a New Hampshire engineer who patented the process under the trademark NanoMark Technologies. Because the technology was available nowhere else, the Legislature required the attorney general to certify that it was available "to more than one (gun) manufacturer unencumbered by any patent restrictions."

That hasn't happened yet.

"We're continuing to review the legislation, but the certification requirements have not yet been met," Christine Gasparac, the attorney general's press secretary, said last week.

The relevant patents are not yet in the public domain, Gasparac explained.

"Nothing can move forward until the patent issue has been resolved," she said.

Meanwhile, those who pushed the California law are claiming any impediments to implementing the first-in-the-nation statute will be resolved soon.

"This is going to be implemented in January, and there won't be any bumps in the road," said Assemblyman Mike Feuer, a Los Angeles Democrat who carried the legislation for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

"I remain confident," Feuer continued, "that it is in fact going to become not only the law in other states, but the law of the land."

Gun-control advocates claim the unproven technology could have an impact on fighting crime, noting that most homicides in California are committed with handguns and most handguns sold in the state are semi-automatics. But opponents point out that the firing pin could be easily altered by criminals to remove the identifying stamp, and also that criminals could simply use firearms that do not eject spent cartridges.

Indeed, the story notes the gun control statute covers only new models of semi-automatic handguns approved for sale after its effective date. That excludes 1,326 different types of handguns legal for sale in California. Revolvers, which do not discharge empty casings, also are not covered.

Even if the attorney general certifies the microstamping measure, gun makers told the newspaper it's uncertain when the internal coding may be added to firearms, if ever. That's because other safety standards unique to California are stopping most companies from introducing handgun models here.

"I have no reason to believe there is any major manufacturer that is going to incur the millions and millions of dollars in costs to implement microstamping for new models introduced in California," said Larry Keane, senior vice president of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, an industry trade association.

"They will simply sell the models that are on the (approved) list now. New models going forward will be barred from the California market, which is already happening," he said.

The story notes many firearms companies are already struggling to comply with California's 2006 mandate that all new handgun models include a loaded chamber indicator and a mechanism that prevents firing when a magazine is removed.

More than three years later, just one new semi-automatic model has been approved by the state.

Chad Baus is the Buckeye Firearms Association Vice Chairman.

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