Some California gun owners have asked about "featureless" guns and the "bullet button assault weapon" registration mandate. Like everything else about California's insane number of gun laws, "it's complicated".

In response to our recently-published article, "California's new gun laws: What every gun owner should know before Jan 1," a lot of gun owners have asked follow-up questions -- many of them about "featureless" guns.

So, we'll do our best to fill you in on where things stand today and why some currently-"featureless" guns might still need to be registered under the law.

Q: What is a "featureless" firearm in California in the context of the Assault Weapons Control Act?

A: According to California Department of Justice (DOJ) regulations -- specifically 11 C.C.R. § 5471(o) -- the term "featureless" means "a semiautomatic firearm (rifle, pistol, or shotgun) lacking the characteristics associated with that weapon, as listed in Penal Code section 30515."

NOTE: For a quick explanation of the difference between statutes and regulations, see the first Q&A here. And to keep up with the latest CA "assault weapon" regulations and news, be sure to keep handy.

Q: What are the "features" that can make a firearm into an "assault weapon"?

In addition to other categories of "assault weapons" (that we aren't going to talk about here), Cal. Penal Code § 30515(a) says that an "assault weapon" is:

(1) A semiautomatic, centerfire rifle that does not have a fixed magazine but has any one of the following:

(A) A pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the weapon.

(B) A thumbhole stock.

(C) A folding or telescoping stock. 

(D) A grenade launcher or flare launcher. 

(E) A flash suppressor. 

(F) A forward pistol grip. 

(2) A semiautomatic, centerfire rifle that has a fixed magazine with the capacity to accept more than 10 rounds. 

(3) A semiautomatic, centerfire rifle that has an overall length of less than 30 inches. 

(4) A semiautomatic pistol that does not have a fixed magazine but has any one of the following: 

(A) A threaded barrel, capable of accepting a flash suppressor, forward handgrip, or silencer. 

(B) A second handgrip. 

(C) A shroud that is attached to, or partially or completely encircles, the barrel that allows the bearer to fire the weapon without burning the bearer’s hand, except a slide that encloses the barrel. 

(D) The capacity to accept a detachable magazine at some location outside of the pistol grip. 

(5) A semiautomatic pistol with a fixed magazine that has the capacity to accept more than 10 rounds. 

(6) A semiautomatic shotgun that has both of the following: 

(A) A folding or telescoping stock. 

(B) A pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the weapon, thumbhole stock, or vertical handgrip. 

(7) A semiautomatic shotgun that has the ability to accept a detachable magazine. 

(8) Any shotgun with a revolving cylinder. 

And, for purposes of [Cal. Penal Code section 30515], " 'fixed magazine' means an ammunition feeding device contained in, or permanently attached to, a firearm in such a manner that the device cannot be removed without disassembly of the firearm action." Cal. Penal Code section 30515(b).

Q: I have a firearm that is now "featureless" but wasn't "featureless" before 1/1/2017. Do I still need to register?

A: We believe you have the right, if not the duty, to register a featureless firearm if you want to. 

The DOJ regulation at 11 C.C.R. § 5472(c) says that the "Department will not register a firearm as an assault weapon if the firearm is featureless, except for bullet-button shotguns as described in section 5470(d)." So, according to the DOJ, it will not register a featureless firearm (unless it's a "bullet-button shotgun").

But DOJ regulations do not say that you are not legally obligated to register a firearm that is subject to the statutory registration mandate -- they only say that they won't register such a firearm.

Indeed, Cal. Penal Code section 30900(b)(1) says (in pertinent part) that, "Any person who, from January 1, 2001, to December 31, 2016, inclusive, [ ] lawfully possessed an assault weapon [ ] shall register the firearm before July 1, 2018 [ ] with the department pursuant to those procedures that the department may establish by regulation pursuant to paragraph (5)." (Emphasis added.)

So, to parse this out, the statutes (in effect) say that:

  • If you lawfully possessed a firearm that is now considered an assault weapon
  • During the period of 1/1/2001 through 12/31/2016
  • You must register the firearm with the DOJ
  • In accordance with the DOJ's registration procedures that it establishes in regulations.

Section 30900(b)(1) does not say, for example, that one must register "unless the firearm is later configured in a manner that lacks the features described in Section 30515"; it just says that if you legally possessed one of the subject firearms, then you are subject to the registration mandate.

Q: DOJ's regulations, policies, and practices are obstructing people from complying with the statutory registration mandate (and in some cases, compel them to). What is being done about it?

A: One case, George Holt, et al. v. Attorney General Xavier Becerra, et al., is a constitutional, statutory, and Administrative Procedure Act (APA) challenge to the DOJ's "bullet-button assault weapon" regulations. We believe that the DOJ’s regulations expose people to criminal liability that would not otherwise exist under the actual laws regulating firearms in California. And this "featureless" problem is one of the things that the case is trying to resolve. As described in the Holt complaint:

Plaintiff Michael Louie is an individual law-abiding gun owner and a resident of the County of San Bernardino, California, and has, within the past year, paid taxes to the State of California and/or for its benefit. Plaintiff Louie owns two registered “assault weapons” which were lawfully owned and registered in or prior to 2001.

Before December 31, 2016, plaintiff Louie also legally owned a firearm which the DOJ now labels a “bullet-button assault weapon” and which, as configured, had been retroactively defined as an “assault weapon” pursuant to section 30515, subdivision (a).

Plaintiff Louie is now required by law to register that firearm as an “assault weapon” pursuant to section 30900, subdivision (b)(1) (“shall register the firearm […]”).

However, at the present time, the specifically-described features of the firearm that made it a legally owned “assault weapon” before December 31, 2016, under section 30515, subdivision (a), have been removed, thereby making it a “featureless” rifle. (See 11 CCR, § 5471, subd. (o).)

Plaintiff Louie is nevertheless required by statute to register this firearm, and desires to register this firearm, in accordance with the law.

However, the Department’s own regulations (i.e., 11 CCR, § 5472, subd. (c)) prevent or would prevent plaintiff Louie from registering this legally-owned firearm as required by statute.

Therefore, the declaratory and injunctive relief, and/or mandamus relief, sought in this action are necessary, as set forth herein, to vindicate his right (and obligation), and the rights (and obligations) of others similarly situated, to register this legally-owned firearm as the only available means by which to maintain lawful possession of such firearms according to the DOJ’s regulatory scheme.

(Paragraph breaks added for clarity.)

Q: This "featureless" issue is directly impacting me. What can I do about it?

A: If you have tried to register a firearm as an assault weapon but were denied/rejected by DOJ -- or would register a firearm, but for the DOJ's regulations, policies, and/or practices -- and you'd like to participate in pro-gun legal action against the DOJ, please let our legal counsel know by e-mailing us here (be sure to send your first and last name, phone number, city/county of residence, a general summary of the issues, and any other pertinent information).

Q: This is nuts. Do they really expect me to comply?!

As we said before, we fully understand and appreciate that everyone is sick of being criminalized and treated like second-class citizens. But, as we noted in our recent article:

failing to register an assault weapon in accordance with the statutes means:

  • During a law enforcement encounter, an unregistered "assault weapon" will almost certainly be confiscated and lost forever; 
  • An unregistered "assault weapon" firearm may be considered a "public nuisance" and subject to seizure, destruction, and fines (Cal. Penal Code section 30800);
  • A person who, among other things, transports, lends, or imports an unregistered "assault weapon" may be subject to a stiff felony and who, "upon conviction shall be punished by imprisonment pursuant to subdivision (h) of Section 1170 for four, six, or eight years" (Cal. Penal Code section 30600);
  • And so on...

These are potentially life-changing consequences.

We strongly encourage everyone to do their own research, talk with an attorney to get specific legal advice, and make informed decisions.

Q: Who is Firearms Policy Coalition?

A: We're a real grassroots group made up of rockstar individuals across the United States, constitutional and civil rights activists, policy experts, campaigners, and even some lawyers stop by from time to time. 

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Q: I read all of this and I still have questions!

A: If you read through all the Q&As and the topical list below, clicked all the links, and still have questions....send us a note here and we'll do our best to get your question answered. Be sure to check back here for updates.