One reason bans on "high-capacity" magazines are unlikely to have a noticeable impact on gun deaths is that such laws generally do not involve confiscation of magazines already in circulation. And contrary to what some members of Congress seem to believe, magazines are reusable and can last for years. But what happens when they start to wear out? In California, which has banned magazines holding more than 10 rounds since 2000, people who legally owned noncompliant magazines before then are permitted to buy replacement parts for them. (The federal law restricting magazine capacity, which expired in 2004, made a similar allowance.) But if you buy enough replacement parts, you have essentially purchased a new magazine; you just need to assemble it. This week San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera filed a lawsuit aimed at narrowing that loophole.
The basis for Herrera's suit is California's Unfair Competition Law, which aims to "protect consumers and law-abiding competing businesses from unlawful, unfair, and fraudulent business practices." He argues that three companies—44Mag Distributing of Harbor, Oregon; Exile Machine of Dallas, Texas; and Copes Distributing of Pitsburg, Ohio—are violating California law by selling "repair kits" that include all the parts you need to make a high-capacity magazine. But according to a 2005 letter from Bill Lockyer, then California's attorney general, such sales are perfectly legal. Furthermore, the suppliers warn customers about the legal restrictions on the use of these kits. 44Mag, for example, tells potential buyers in California that "it is not illegal to possess all of the parts to manufacture a new large-capacity magazine, as long as you do not manufacture the magazine in the state of California." Exile Machine provides a similar caveat:
Yes, we gladly ship to California customers!
If you purchase magazines which hold more than 10 rounds, we will automatically disassemble them into 100% legal repair/rebuild kits for compliance with CA law. We do not charge extra for this service. Your invoice will clearly state (in ALL CAPS & BOLD) that you are receiving disassembled repair/rebuild kits. Note that a few types of magazines are welded shut and can not be disassembled.
PLEASE NOTE: CA-Legal Magazine Repair / Rebuild Kits are to be used to 1) repair or rebuild your existing legally owned high capacity magazines or 2) permanently block to 10 rounds or 3) store in a disassembled condition for use outside of California. They are not intended for reassembly into new high capacity magazines, which would be a felony under California law.
Herrera also sued B & L Productions of Kaysville, Utah, which "hosts gun shows throughout California…where large-capacity magazine 'repair kits' are typically available for purchase." He argues that all four defendants are winking at the law, knowing full well that at least some of their customers will use the kits to get around it. But what rule should gun accessory suppliers deduce from Herrera's lawsuit? That it is OK to sell all the parts necessary to make a high-capacity magazine (as it clearly is under California law), provided you don't sell them together? If so, all Herrera can hope to accomplish is forcing buyers to click a few more buttons.
Does Herrera know about 3D printers?
[Thanks to Robert Woolley for the tip.]