Another gun rights battle coming to Fresno court

The Fresno BeeJanuary 14, 2014 

Semi-automatic handguns on display at Herb Bauer Sporting Goods in Fresno.


Fresno County Superior Court will once again be the battleground between pro-gun rights forces and the California Attorney General's Office, this time over a law that supporters say will help police trace handguns used in crimes.

Opponents say the new technology that the law attempts to put in place -- microstamping -- is unproven and unworkable. They believe the legislation is nothing more than an effort to ban semi-automatic handguns in California.

A lawsuit filed in Fresno this month by the National Shooting Sports Foundation and the Sporting Arms and Ammunition Manufacturers Institute seeks to prevent Attorney General Kamala Harris from enforcing microstamping. Fresno gun dealer Barry Bauer of Herb Bauer Sporting Goods is seeking to join the suit as an injured party.

Fresno courts have been the venue for gun rights debates on several occasions.

In November, an appellate court upheld a Fresno County judge who tossed a law requiring handgun ammunition buyers to provide identification and a thumbprint before completing the sale.

Another suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Fresno, challenges the diversion of $24 million from gun buyer background fees to hire more state Department of Justice agents.

The latest dispute is over microstamping -- using lasers to cut microscopic markings on the firing pin of a semi-automatic pistol so that shell casings can be matched with the pistol that fired them. Proponents say the technology would prove invaluable for police investigating shell casings left at a crime scene and in other situations. Currently, investigators cannot match a gun used in a crime with the shell casings unless they recover the firearm.

The technology would not help investigators find revolvers used in crimes because those handguns do not eject a shell casing when fired.

A 2010 law requires any new semi-automatic on the state's roster of approved handguns to make use of the technology -- but didn't go into effect until the state Department of Justice certified any manufacturer could do so without running afoul of patent laws.

Last May, the state DOJ said that condition had been met, setting up grounds for the lawsuit.

Opponents say that an inventor of microstamping technology, Todd Lizotte, backed their claims when he who wrote in a 2012 trade journal article that the technology is not ready for use.

"It's unproven technology," Bauer said. "There is not a single state that is using it. I have been told by (gun maker) Ruger to expect them to drop all of their guns off the California (approved handgun) list by the end of 2014."

Said Sam Paredes, of Gun Owners of California:

"No manufacturer in the world applies microstamping. The technology has been abandoned and they have moved on. It's a basic ban on any new handgun."

Paredes also said microstamping could be defeated by simply filing the markings off a firing pin or replacing the pin.

Pro-gun advocates also worry that any modification to a handgun currently approved for sale in California would require the weapon to be resubmitted for testing equipped with microstamping.

"Guns will fall off the (approved) list," Paredes said. "It's a violation of the Second Amendment."

Cody Jacobs, a staff attorney for the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence in San Francisco, dismissed objections to the law.

"The gun lobby always makes the same hysterical claims," he said. "This will help law enforcement solve gun crimes going forward."

Jacobs said manufacturers will adopt the technology to stay in the state.

"California is a big market for guns and it will continue to be. The law is not perfect ... but it's a step in the right direction."

No hearing dates have been set in the case.

The reporter can be reached at (559) 341-5682, or @jimguy27 on Twitter.

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