Three gun owners who tried for weeks without success to comply with a new mandate to register reclassified “assault weapons” are taking the state to court.
The lawsuit— filed in Shasta County Superior Court on Wednesday by David Ajirogi, Ryan Gilardy, and Harry Sharp– argues that the state’s firearm reporting website was offline when they attempted to comply with a new law changing how some guns are classified. Guns.com previously reported that the CFARS website was experiencing widespread problems in the last week of June as those seeking to register guns with newly regulated “bullet button” devices moved to log their firearms with state authorities.
The suit argues that California Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s office knew as far back as March that the new website was plagued with developmental issues, while the program overseeing it was underfunded and understaffed.
In court documents, the three gun owners said they attempted repeatedly over the course of several days in June to use the CFARS system, a lengthy process which required applicants to upload several images of their firearm as well as personal information and details. Sharp, for example, documented 50 attempts which either timed out or froze up without completing while multiple calls to technical support only met with automated instructions on how to clear browser settings and delete cookies.
“Many people, including our clients, did everything they could to comply with the law and avoid criminal liability,” said George M. Lee, one of the attorneys on the case. “They used updated web browsers, hardware, different devices, and even did internet speed tests to make sure it wasn’t a problem on their end.”
Even worse, some reported data breaches while using the site. The National Rifle Association advised that in some cases, the system allowed those logged in to see all the personal information submitted by other users, “including the firearms’ make/model/serial number and all of the photos and attachments to the user’s registration application.”
Out of an estimated 13 million gun owners in California, a public records request filed by GunsAmerica detailed that just 6,213 individuals successfully registered 13,519 weapons before the June 30 deadline. Some 5 million rifles have been legally sold over the counter in the state since the use of bullet buttons became available in 2001.
The lawsuit is backed by a host of gun rights groups including the Calguns Foundation, Firearms Policy Coalition, and Second Amendment Foundation, who have signed on as institutional plaintiffs.
“It’s like a bad version of ‘Catch-22’,” said Alan Gottlieb, SAF founder. “The government required registration by the deadline, but the online registration failed and people couldn’t register. They’re required to obey the law, but the system broke down, making it impossible to obey the law. Now, these people face the possibility of being prosecuted. We simply cannot abide that kind of incompetence.”
Possession of an unregistered assault weapon under California law is generally a misdemeanor, but can still bring with it up to a year in prison. However, it should be noted that prosecutorial discretion in the state can allow felony charges to be pursued in possession cases which can translate into much higher penalties.
The filing seeks to let those shut out by the CFARS system allow their legally possessed, qualified firearms as well as court costs and legal fees. The groups supporting the lawsuit are asking those who attempted to comply with the new law but were unable to should contact their Legal Action Hotline immediately online or by telephone at 855-252-4510.