California Single-Shot Exempt Handgun Sales in 2015

Firearms Law Alert (February 2015)

As many in the firearms industry are aware, especially those that do business in the state of California, recent legislation was enacted, effective January 1, 2015, to further restrict the sales of semiautomatic handguns through the “single shot exemption.”  For those who are unaware, until the beginning of the year, California law had allowed the sale of certain handguns without requiring that they be added to the California Roster of Certified Handguns. The law included an exemption for single-shot handguns that met certain length and other requirements.
Pre-2015 Law
California’s existing law requires that the California Department of Justice (DOJ) maintain the “Roster of Handguns Certified for Sale” in California (Roster).[1]  With certain exceptions, existing law makes it a crime, punishable by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year, to manufacture, import into the state for sale, keep for sale, offer or expose for sale, give, or lend an unsafe handgun.”[2]  Those handguns not listed on the Roster are referred to “unsafe handguns.”
Beginning with California Penal Code section 32100, there are exemptions to the rules governing so-called “unsafe handguns.”  Under existing law, a single-action revolver having curio or relic status or meeting certain specifications were exempt from the category of handguns required to be listed on the Roster.[3]  Additionally, under pre-2015 law, the Roster requirement did 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 10.5 inches when the handle, frame or receiver, and barrel are assembled.”[4]
Until January 1, 2015, the law was commonly interpreted to permit California Federal Firearms Licensed dealers (FFLs) to sell an “off-roster” pistol through the “single shot exemption.”  These “off-Roster” exempt pistols included a semi-automatic pistol that had been temporarily altered to operate as a single-shot pistol (i.e., a pistol that can only hold a single round of ammunition at a given time through the use of a zero-round magazine block) with a 6 inch barrel.  As a result, a FFL holder could sell these temporarily altered single-shot pistols to purchasers without the need to comply with the Roster requirement.  After completing the background check, necessary paperwork, and taking possession of the firearm, the purchasers could then convert the “altered” pistol to a semi-automatic pistol.
AB 1964 Amendments
On July 18, 2014, California Assembly Bill 1964 (AB 1964) was enacted to amend Penal Code section 32100, subdivision (b), relating to unsafe handguns.[5]  Under amendments to section 32100, subdivision (b), effective January 1, 2015, the language exempting a single-shot pistol was removed and replaced with the following:
Article 4 (commencing with Section 31900) and Article 5 (commencing with Section 32000) shall not apply to a single-shot pistol with a break top or bolt action and a barrel length of not less than six inches and that has an overall length of at least 10 ½ inches when the handle, frame, or receiver, and barrel are assembled. However, Article 4… and Article 5… shall apply to a semiautomatic pistol that has been temporarily or permanently altered so that it will not fire in a semiautomatic mode.[6]
Under the first sentence of the new law, the Roster exemption is now limited to exempt only a single-shot pistol with a break top or bolt action that also meets the barrel length requirements listed therein.  Additionally, the new law now provides that the Roster requirement applies to a semi-automatic pistol that has been temporarily or permanently altered to function as a single-shot pistol.  The result of this new law is that FFLs will no longer be able to lawfully alter, temporarily or permanently, a semi-automatic pistol so that it fires in a single-shot mode and thereby obtain the benefits of selling an “off-Roster” pistol.  Accordingly, once a firearm is manufactured and classified as a semi-automatic pistol, it will not be lawful to alter it and exempt it from the Roster requirement.
Sales under the New 2015 Law
Although this new law has further restricted the sale of handguns in California, we believe there are still options to open up in sales in the California market while still remaining compliant with California law.  We have spent considerable time analyzing the new law, and have a strong understanding of the mechanics of various firearm types and designs.
Note – this Alert does not specifically address what must be done to remain compliant with the new law regarding single-shot pistols or the other possible methods of importing for sale “off-Roster” pistols.  Consultation with an attorney knowledgeable in California law is highly recommended.  If you are interested in this process, we are available to provide the legal consultation required.

If you have any questions or need additional information regarding the above, please do not hesitate to contact Gatzke Dillon & Ballance LLP at 760.431.9501. Importantly, the above discussion is only a summary.  Therefore, application of this information should be subject to careful and thorough evaluation. 

[1]             See Roster of Handguns Certified for Sale, California Dept. of Justice, Bureau of Firearms, (last accessed Dec., 22, 2013).
[2]             Penal Code § 32000.
[3]             Penal Code § 32100, subd. (a)(1)-(3).
[4]             Penal Code § 32100, subd. (b).
[5]             Assembly Bill No. 1964, Text,‚Äč20132014AB1964&search)keywords=.
[6]             Id. (Italics added.) 

[The information contained in this transmission does not constitute a legal opinion and should not be relied upon as legal advice.]