California microstamping lawsuit will see another day in court

A lawsuit dismissed last year over California’s microstamping law will see another day in court, the National Shooting Sports Foundation announced Thursday.

NSSF and the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers’ Institute challenged the 2007 state law in a suit filed in January 2014, insisting the sort of technology mandated under the bill was “impossible to accomplish.”

The law requires manufacturers outfit semiautomatic handguns with the capability to permanently mark shell casings discharged from the weapon with an identifying mark — creating a serialized shell casing that could be tracked back to the gun that fired it.

Supporters of the bill argued it would help law enforcement investigate, arrest and convict more people who use semiautomatic handguns in crimes, according to court documents.

Industry experts and detractors of the law insist microstamping remains an unproven technology and is “literally impossible” to achieve.

“There is no existing microstamping technology that meets the requirement of this ill-considered law,” said Larry Keane, NSSF senior vice president and general counsel. “It is not technologically possible to microstamp two locations in the gun and have the required information imprint onto the cartridge casing. In addition, the current state of the technology cannot reliably, consistently and legibly imprint on the cartridge primer the required identifying information from the tip of the firing pin, the only possible location where it is possible to micro-laser engrave the information.”

Fresno Superior Court Judge Donald Black dismissed the original lawsuit in July 2015. In his ruling, Black said the doctrine of sovereign immunity precluded the industry’s argument that “the law never requires impossibilities.”

A California Appellate Court reversed Black’s decision Thursday, insisting NSSF and SAAMI have “a right to present evidence to prove their claim” in the lower court.

California maintains a roster of approved handguns under the 2001 Safe Handgun Act. As of Dec. 1, the list includes 770 approved models for sale in the state, and continues shrinking as manufacturers drop off without replacements due to the microstamping requirement. Since January 2014, more than 350 models — which must be renewed every five years — have disappeared from the roster.

“We have long maintained that this nascent, unproven and unreliable technology should not have been mandated,” Keane said Thursday. “When we ultimately prevail in this case, law-abiding consumers in California will once again be able to purchase new models of pistols this law currently prevents our industry members from selling in the state.”