Difference between revisions of "The Safe Handgun List"

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(A Special Note on the Taurus Judge)
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This definition applies to the Judge, with its three inch barrel.
This definition applies to the Judge, with its three inch barrel.
12020.  (a) Any person in this state who does any of the
12020.  (a) Any person in this state who does any of the
  following is punishable by imprisonment in a county jail not
  following is punishable by imprisonment in a county jail not
  exceeding one year or in the state prison:
  exceeding one year or in the state prison:

Revision as of 06:12, 5 June 2009


The California Roster of Handguns Certified for Sale is sometimes called the "Safe Handgun List", because the establishing legislation, SB15 in 1998 referred to unsafe handguns.

Penal Code 12125. (a) Commencing January 1, 2001, any person in
this state who manufactures or causes to be manufactured,
imports into the state for sale, keeps for sale, offers or
exposes for sale, gives, or lends any  unsafe handgun shall
be punished by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one
Penal Code 12131. (a) On and after January 1, 2001, the
Department of Justice shall compile, publish, and thereafter
maintain a roster listing all of  the pistols, revolvers, and
other firearms capable of being concealed  upon the person that
have been tested by a certified testing laboratory, have been
determined not to be unsafe handguns, and may be sold in
this  state pursuant to this title.  The roster shall list, for
each firearm,  the manufacturer, model number, and model name.

The bill went into effect January, 2001. The author was Senator Richard G. Polanco (D-Los Angeles).

There have been two major modifications since then: Senator Scott’s 2003 SB 489 for loaded chamber indicator/magazine disconnect, and Assembly Member Feuer’s 2007 AB 1471, microstamping.

AB 1471 has a 'bug':

... provided that the Department of Justice certifies that the
technology used to create the imprint is available to more than
one manufacturer unencumbered by any patent restrictions.

The sole known 'microstamping' provider, NanoMark Technologies (Todd Lizotte), has a patent on the process.

2007-2008 bill AB 2235, Mr DeSaulnier's "owner-authorized handguns" bill, failed passage.

In the 2009-2010 session, Mr DeSaulnier (now in the Senate), showing remarkable persistence in a bad cause, introduced similar legislation regarding owner-authorized handguns - SB 697.


A manufacturer or an importer (and ONLY those - 11 CCR § 4070 and § 4071) submits a handgun for testing. They must supply THREE copies of the gun to be tested, and pay a fee. (Penal Code 12130)

The gun must pass a defined firing requirement (Penal Code 12127) and a drop safety test (Penal Code 12128). It must also meet other requirements in effect at the time it is submitted for testing, currently a magazine disconnect and a loaded chamber indicator for semi-automatic handguns. (Penal Code 12126(b)(5))

Once a tested gun is added to the Roster, a manufacturer may certify that additional models are different from the tested model only in ‘minor’ attributes:

12131.5. (a) A firearm shall be deemed to satisfy the requirements of
subdivision (a) of Section 12131 if another firearm made by the same
manufacturer is already listed and the unlisted firearm differs from
the listed firearm only in one or more of the following features:
(1) Finish, including, but not limited to, bluing, chrome-plating,
oiling, or engraving.
(2) The material from which the grips are made.
(3) The shape or texture of the grips, so long as the difference in
grip shape or texture does not in any way alter the dimensions,
material, linkage, or functioning of the magazine well, the barrel,
the chamber, or any of the components of the firing mechanism of the
(4) Any other purely cosmetic feature that does not in any way alter
the dimensions, material, linkage, or functioning of the magazine 
well, the barrel, the chamber, or any of the components of the 
firing mechanism of the firearm.

Each model must be individually added to the Roster and each requires the annual fee. It is entirely the choice of the manufacturer which models will be added to the Roster in this fashion.


Once a handgun is on the Roster, it can remain there, unchanged, so long as the responsible party continues to pay the annual fee. The expiration dates which appear in the Roster listings are the due dates for those fees.

The California Department of Justice may choose to retest handguns on the Roster (11 CCR § 4073), either randomly or with reason to believe there is a problem. Handguns which fail retesting are removed from the Roster. Testing criteria are the same as those used for original certification.

A manufacturer may occasionally allow the gun to lapse. California Code of Regulations (11 CCR § 4074) provides the submitter may request the gun be recertified (retested), and if the gun passes testing it may be returned to the Roster.

New Requirements

Amendments to the law so far have been written to include language such as

(5) Commencing January 1, 2007, for all center fire semiautomatic
pistols that are not already listed on the roster pursuant to
Section  12131, it does not have both a chamber load indicator and 
if it has a  detachable magazine, a magazine disconnect mechanism.

That is, if a pistol is already tested and listed on the Roster at the time new requirements become law, that pistol is NOT affected and does NOT need the new features or capabilities.

The Legislature may choose to write amendments to this law differently in the future.


California FFLs may not transfer handguns which are not on the Roster unless the individual or guns or kind of transaction are listed as exceptions.

Current exceptions include:

  1. peace officers with official identification;
  2. gifts from out-of-state immediate family members (who are defined as parents, grandparents, children and grandchildren only; brothers and other familial relationships are not included);
  3. curios and relics;
  4. Olympic pistols listed in Penal Code 12132(h)(2);
  5. private party transactions (PPT)Penal Code 12132(a) PPT is described in Penal Code 12082;
  6. Single shot pistols that meet certain dimensional and other requirements in Penal Code 12133 (a) and (b) and described further below.

Other exempt transactions and conditions

No long guns are affected.

Handguns moved into the state by new residents are not affected by the Roster.

Transfers between immediate family members using the Operation of Law or Intrafamilial Handgun Transaction Report are not affected by the Roster. This procedure was established in 1994 with AB 2470.

Pawning and redeeming from pawn are not subject to the Roster. (Penal Code 12132(f))

Giving a handgun to a gunsmith for repair, and receiving that handgun back are exempt. (Penal Code 12132(d) and (e))

General government transactions are exempt (Penal Code 12125(b)(4):

The sale or purchase of any pistol, revolver or other firearm
capable of being concealed upon the person, if the pistol, revolver,
or other firearm is sold to, or purchased by, the Department of
Justice, any police department, any sheriff's official, any marshal's
office, the Youth and Adult Correctional Agency, the California
Highway Patrol, any district attorney's office, or the military or
naval forces of this state or of the United States for use in the
discharge of their official duties.

Certain single shot handguns are exempt: Penal Code 12133:

12133.  (a) The provisions of this chapter shall not apply to a
single-action revolver that has at least a 5-cartridge capacity with
a barrel length of not less than three inches, and meets any of the
following specifications:
(1) Was originally manufactured prior to 1900 and is a curio or
relic, as defined in Section 478.11 of Title 27 of the Code of
Federal Regulations.
(2) Has an overall length measured parallel to the barrel of at
least 71/2 inches when the handle, frame or receiver, and barrel are
(3) Has an overall length measured parallel to the barrel of at
least 71/2 inches when the handle, frame or receiver, and barrel are
assembled and that is currently approved for importation into the
United States pursuant to the provisions of paragraph (3) of
subsection (d) of Section 925 of Title 18 of the United States Code.
(b) The provisions of this chapter shall not apply to a
single-shot pistol with a barrel length of not less than six inches
and that has an overall length of at least 101/2 inches when the
handle, frame or receiver, and barrel are assembled.


It is arguable that the law has little relationship to any useful definition of 'safety'. Most notably, a gun tested and certified and added to the Roster cannot be transferred by dealers if the model is removed from the Roster for non-payment of the annual fee. With no mechanical changes, a gun would go from 'not unsafe' to something else overnight.

Modifications are permitted

Once purchased, an owner may have a manufacturer or other gunsmith modify a handgun to a different configuration from that required to be on the Roster. Ownership and use of a modified handgun remain legal, presuming no other laws are violated (e.g. manufacturing a California 'assault weapon').

Such a modified handgun could not be resold in California by a licensed dealer, but could be sold according to the exceptions noted above..

A Special Note on the Taurus Judge

Taurus, USA sells a revolver called the Judge.

The Penal Code at 12020 says

 (c) (1) As used in this section, a "short-barreled shotgun"
means any of the following:
  (A) A firearm which is designed or redesigned to fire a fixed
shotgun shell and having a barrel or barrels of less than 18
inches in length.

This definition applies to the Judge, with its three inch barrel.

12020.  (a) Any person in this state who does any of the
following is punishable by imprisonment in a county jail not
exceeding one year or in the state prison:
  (1) Manufactures or causes to be manufactured, imports into
the state, keeps for sale, or offers or exposes for sale, or
who gives,lends, or possesses ... any short-barreled shotgun,

This is not an issue with the Roster. Until Penal Code 12020 is amended, the Taurus Judge is illegal in California.

Legal Challenges

"Heller II"

After Heller, Washington, DC adopted substantially all of California's Roster restrictions.

Alan Gura, attorney for the plaintiff in Heller, has filed a brief (April 13, 2009) arguing the Roster concept violates the Second Amendment (page 10).

The handguns banned by Defendants’ rostering program –
including guns without CLIs and/or magazine disconnect
mechanisms, guns that have not been (and cannot be) submitted
by their manufacturer for government testing, and guns that
would be perfectly acceptable by the government but for lack of
an annual listing fee – are all nonetheless handguns of the
kind in common use protected by the Second Amendment. None of
these characteristics render a firearm “dangerous or unusual”
or establish that it is not of the kind in common use for 
lawful purposes. 
Having been ordered by the Supreme Court not to ban handguns
because handguns, as a class of arms, have Second Amendment
protection regardless of the city’s safety theories, the city
cannot come back less than a year later and ban handguns merely
because they are deemed “unsafe.” The three handguns denied
Plaintiffs by operation of Defendants’ handgun rostering 
program are plainly within the Second Amendment’s protection.
That this legislation is defiant of the Supreme Court’s
decision is illustrated by its operative banning of Paul St.
Lawrence’s High Standard .22 Buntline-style revolver – the
exact same gun the Supreme Court ordered the city not to ban
less than one year ago. This gun might not appear on the city’s
list of approved handguns, but according to the Supreme Court,
it appears in the Second Amendment. 

The brief further argues that the Roster violates equal protection (page 12):

It has long been understood that the Fifth Amendment’s
guarantee of due process includes the concept that individuals
may not be deprived of the equal protection of the law. Bolling
v. Sharpe, 347 U.S. 497, 499 (1954). Because the handgun
rostering program is riddled with exceptions, and inherently
yields inconsistent results, it invites serious questions about
Plaintiffs’ rights to equal protection. 
These and other senseless distinctions are inevitable
considering the audacious mission of the handgun roster law: to
make a complete list of all lawful handguns, and substitute the
design and feature preferences of legislators and regulators
for that of a market comprising hundreds of millions of people
over the course of generations. That this project intrudes into
the exercise of a fundamental right calls for its abandonment.

Calguns Foundation Files Suit, April 30, 2009


For Immediate Release: 4/30/2009

BELLEVUE, WA and REDWOOD CITY, CA – The Second Amendment Foundation, The Calguns Foundation and four California residents today filed a lawsuit challenging a California state law and regulatory scheme that arbitrarily bans handguns based on a roster of “certified” handguns approved by the State. This case parallels a similar case filed in Washington, DC, Hanson v. District of Columbia.

California uses this list despite a ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court last summer that protects handguns that ordinary people traditionally use for self-defense, and a recent ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that the Second Amendment applies to state and local governments. The California scheme will eventually ban the purchase of almost all new handguns.

Attorney Alan Gura, representing the plaintiffs in this case, noted that California “tells Ivan Peña that his rights have an expiration date based on payment of a government fee. Americans are not limited to a government list of approved books, or approved religions,” he said. “A handgun protected by the Second Amendment does not need to appear on any government-approved list and cannot be banned because a manufacturer does not pay a special annual fee.”

See the thread at Calguns.

Complaint filed in US District Court for the Eastern District of California.

Preliminary Timeline and Course of the Suit

The California Department of Justice is constitutionally obligated to defend the suit.

First results from the District Court are possible at the end of August, 2009.

It is nearly certain the opinion at the District Court will be appealed to the Ninth Circuit.