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California Assault Weapon Laws: A Basic Primer for Law Enforcement

NCJ Number
Law Enforcement Quarterly Volume: 30 Issue: 3 Dated: Winter 2001 Pages: 5-9
William C. Gentry Jr.
Date Published
5 pages
This article explains California’s laws regarding assault weapons and discusses the implications of these laws for police and prosecutors.
Possession of firearms classified as assault weapons is lawful, provided that the owner has registered the firearm and is using the firearm lawfully. Many of the firearms now classified as assault weapons by the State of California are still popular among competitive and recreational shooters. The two major pieces of legislation that the California legislature has passed since 1989 to address assault weapons are the Roberti-Roos Assault Weapons Control Act of 1989 and Senate Bill 23 (Section 7, Chapter 129, Statutes of 1999), popularly known as SB23. Roberti-Roos classified a list of semi-automatic firearms by specific names and placed restrictions on their possession, use, sale, and transfer. The law also provided for adding copycat firearms to the list. In addition, the California Supreme Court in June 2001 ruled that only the Attorney General may classify firearms as assault weapons. SB23 sought to classify firearms as assault weapons by defining assault weapons in terms of general characteristics rather than name. These laws have resulted in the existence of three categories of assault weapons in California. The Automated Firearms System can provide police with information about registered handguns and assault weapons. The complexity of California’s laws on assault weapons requires law enforcement officers to examine confiscated firearms thoroughly before bringing criminal charges. Firearm specialists at local crime laboratories should conduct a detailed examination and, ideally, prepare a supplementary report regarding the firearm’s characteristics. Photographs and figures