California Caves on AR-15 Registration Fight 

State to reopen bungled registration system, pay gun group six figures in attorneys' fees

A Los Angeles gun store in 2020 / Getty Images
March 19, 2021

California will reopen its "assault weapons" registration process and pause prosecutions after settling with a gun group over accusations that the process hindered the Second Amendment rights of residents.

California will let gun owners file new registrations, avoid prosecutions of registration violations for at least seven months, and pay the Firearms Policy Coalition $151,821.42 for lawyers' fees, according to the terms of the agreement. Once the court approves the settlement, California will start a campaign to inform the public of the new registration process and give owners of the banned AR-15 variants up to three months to register them.

The expanded ban targeted AR-15s and other guns with reloading devices called "bullet buttons" and went into effect in 2016. The registration system set up by then-state attorney general Xavier Becerra (D.), whom President Joe Biden has since appointed secretary of health and human services, was riddled with technical problems. Many California gun owners were locked out of the registration system. In 2018, the Firearms Policy Coalition estimated only 3 percent of Californian gun owners registered their guns under the new system.

The California Department of Justice "believes the proposed settlement is in the best interest of the people of California, and will ensure that lawfully owned assault weapons are registered with the Bureau of Firearms," a spokesperson told the Washington Free Beacon.

Firearms Policy Coalition president Brandon Combs said the settlement exceeded his group's expectations. He pointed to the agreement's prolonged grace period as a major victory. Under the terms of the agreement, California must wait 210 days before it can begin enforcing and prosecuting residents.

"After we got into discovery and saw just how bad the state handled the situation, we actually got more out of this settlement than we asked for in the case," he told the Free Beacon.

Combs said the group is hoping to keep up the momentum from the settlement and strike down the state's gun ban in Miller v. Becerra, which is still being litigated. He called California's ban "unconstitutional" and "immoral" and said it should not be allowed to stand.

"This is a human liberty issue," he said. "And if you are not able to arm yourself with effective weapons, then you don't have full access to your human right of self-defense."

He said Thursday's settlement is an important first step that will prevent California from seizing people's guns or prosecuting them under the 2016 ban. That could give residents time to see the ban ultimately eliminated.

"What we're really talking about here is, are we keeping people out of prison? Are we keeping guns in the hands of their owners? The answer is yes," he said. "The big win, of course, is going to be in Miller but this is a huge win for gun owners."