A federal judge on Thursday refused to dismiss a lawsuit by California gun owners who claim they were unable to comply with the state’s latest registration law because the state’s internet-based registration system does not work properly.
Judge Morrison England Jr. said the state’s inability to maintain a working registration website leading up to the registration deadline violated procedural due process. England is a George W. Bush appointee for the Eastern District of California U.S. District Court. He argued that the state indicated the registration system would be available up until the deadline and was indifferent to failures of the system.
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"While Defendants appear to blame the individual Plaintiffs for waiting until the last minute to attempt to register their firearms (seven waited until the last two days of the online registration period), the fact that Defendants' website used a dramatic ‘countdown clock' showing the number of weeks, days, hours, minutes and seconds elapsing until the deadline at least arguably supported a belief that registrations could be both processed and accepted ‘until literally the last second of the registration period,'" Judge England wrote in his opinion. "Particularly when coupled with the documented systemic failures outlined above, the countdown clock also supports an inference of deliberate indifference."
The Second Amendment Foundation, Calguns Foundation, Firearms Policy Coalition, Firearms Policy Foundation, and Madison Society Foundation join seven individuals in the suit. The case was brought in July of last year after California passed a new ban on certain rifles, handguns, and shotguns. The new ban required that owners register affected guns with the state or face criminal punishment.
The plaintiffs say they or their members were unable to register before the deadline due to problems with the registration system. They are now suing to allow anyone affected by the system’s failures to register their firearms after the deadline.
The gun groups said the suit was necessary to protect gun owners from a system they believe was impossible to comply with.
"We said at the start of this legal action and we still maintain that the state’s system was like a bad version of ‘Catch-22,'" Alan M. Gottlieb, Second Amendment Foundation executive vice president, said in a statement. "The government required registration by a certain deadline, but the online registration failed and people couldn’t register. It’s simply not acceptable when the government mandates something and then doesn’t provide the tools for the public to comply, making them criminally liable and subject to firearms confiscation."
They further described the situation as a "mess" they ask the court to clean up.
"Attorney General Becerra and his DOJ had one job to do: Provide a functional system for gun owners to use in registering their eligible firearms," Brandon Combs, Firearms Policy Coalition president, said in a statement. "But instead of doing their jobs, they created a huge new mess for law enforcement and put innocent people and lawfully-owned property at serious risk."
The California Department of Justice did not immediately respond to a request for comment.