Non detachable magazines
How is "detachable magazine" defined?
Detachable magazine is defined in Title 11 "Law" of the California Code of Regulations as "any ammunition feeding device that can be removed readily from the firearm with neither disassembly of the firearm action nor use of a tool being required. A bullet or ammunition cartridge is considered a tool." The California Department of Justice originally interpreted the term "detachable magazine" as not requiring permanence beyond the use of a tool being required. As such, the Penal Code is effectively amended to read:
12276.1. (a) Notwithstanding Section 12276, "assault weapon" shall also mean any of the following: (1) A semiautomatic, centerfire rifle that has the capacity to accept any ammunition feeding device that can be removed readily from the firearm with neither disassembly of the firearm action nor use of a tool being required. A bullet or ammunition cartridge is considered a tool. [A]nd any one of the following:
The promulgation of these regulations was specifically delegated to the Attorney General and thus DOJ in Penal Code Section 12276.5 (c). The California Supreme Court in Yamaha Corp. of America v. State Bd. of Equalization (1998) 19 Cal.4th 1, 7 stated, "[R]egulations adopted by an agency to which the Legislature has confided the power to 'make law,' and which, if authorized by the enabling legislation, bind this and other courts as firmly as statutes themselves . . . ." Thus, the definition of "detachable magazine" in the CCR is as binding as the Penal Code itself.
The first official documentation of that position was in January of 2002 in a letter and opinion to DSA arms regarding a modification to a FAL that only used a screw to make the magazine non-detachable. That opinion was reaffirmed in the sworn testimony of Ignatuis Chinn in Hunt v. Lockyer. In 2006, DOJ attempted a rulemaking that subsequently was withdrawn to add the concept of permanence to "detachable magazine." A memo that expressed the attempted rulemaking remained on the DOJ website after the rulemaking was abandoned. Members of Calguns.net challenged the memo as an underground regulation and DOJ agreed not to attempt to use the proposed permanence rule as rule of general applicability. In November of 2008, The Sacramento Police Department issued an internal training memorandum to educate their officers on how to determine if semiautomatic centerfire rifles are prohibited or not.
Does this mean I can have the prohibited features?
The short answer is, yes. If you have a fixed or non-detachable magazine attached to your semiautomatic rifle you can have otherwise prohibited features like pistol grips and folding stocks. Each of these comply with the definition of "detachable magazine" outlined above.
There are three primary types of magazine fixing devices for AR type rifles. They are the Prince50 Mag-Lock Kit, the Prince-50 Bullet Button, and the B-15 Bullet Button. The latter two types allow one to remove a magazine with a tool and place a new 10 round magazine into the rifle which is explained in this post on Calguns.net.
There are three very important warnings to keep in mind.
- Never permanently attach a magazine that has the capacity to accept more than 10 rounds as that triggers an alternative definition of Assault Weapon at Penal Code 12276.1 (a)(2) ("A semiautomatic, centerfire rifle that has a fixed magazine with the capacity to accept more than 10 rounds.")
- If you are using the Prince50 Mag-Lock Kit you can not remove the magazine while the lower is attached to a semiautomatic centerfire upper and has any prohibited features still attached. You can either remove the prohibited features or scissor open or remove the upper to load. If you want to be able to use a tool to remove the magazine you should be using one of the bullet button devices.
- All semiautomatic centerfire rifles must be at least 30" in overall length as anything less triggers an alternative definition of Assault Weapon in Penal Code 12276.1 (a)(3) ("A semiautomatic, centerfire rifle that has an overall length of less than 30 inches.") California measures rifle overall length with folding stocks and other non permanent components in their smallest configuration. This is a difference between California and Federal law.
There are also bullet button devices for AK's and other semiautomatic rifles. The JJPerl bullet button is a popular choice for AK style rifles.
Bullet Buttons and Local Law Enforcement
The Sacramento Police Department issued an "Investigations Division Training Bulletin" November 18th, 2008, which notes in part
Once a bullet button device is installed the firearm no longer has a “detachable magazine” as required in Penal Code Section 12276.1(a)(1) and as defined in the California Code of Regulations. This allows someone to legally posses a rifle built on an off-list (not listed in PC 12276) lower receiver with a pistol grip, folding/telescoping stock, flash suppressor or a forward pistol grip because the firearm has a “fixed magazine”.