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Sworn Members Or Peace Officers: Unsafe Handgun Roster Alert

April 6, 2016

With some exceptions, the sale of any “unsafe handgun” is generally prohibited in California. Handguns that are not on the “Roster of Handguns Certified for Sale in California”  (incorrectly referred to as “unsafe handguns” under the law) cannot be sold by a licensed firearm retailer to the public.

“Unsafe Handgun” is a legal term that has nothing to do with how “safe” the handgun actually is.  Under California law an “unsafe handgun” (i.e. a pistol or revolver) is one that does not meet specific firing or drop safety requirements. Semi-automatic pistols are also considered “unsafe” if they do not have: (1) a chamber load indicator; (2) a magazine disconnect mechanism; and (3) a microscopic array of characters that identify the make, model, and serial number of the pistol which, when the gun is fired, are transferred to the expended ammunition’s cartridge case.

Many California law enforcement agencies specifically chose and want “unsafe handguns” that are not listed on the California Roster. Police want to use these handguns even though the law classifies them as “unsafe.”  So the law allows sales of “unsafe handguns” to:

“the Department of Justice, a police department, a sheriff’s official, a marshal’s office, the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, the California Highway Patrol, any district attorney’s office, any federal law enforcement agency, or the military or naval forces of this state or of the United States, for use in the discharge of their official duties.”

These listed agencies are exempt from the Roster requirement, and can buy off-Roster/ “unsafe” handguns.

The law also “does not prohibit the sale to, or purchase by, sworn members of these agencies of a handgun.” So what constitutes a “sworn member”?

The term “sworn member” is not defined in the law. But any individual who can show proof that they are a “sworn member” of any of the above listed agencies should be exempt from the Roster requirement. This should be true even though they may not qualify as “peace officers,” as that term is defined under California Penal Code section 830. Typically, “peace officers” are “sworn members.” But, “sworn members” may not always be “peace officers.”

Problematically, DOJ has cited several licensed firearm retailers with violations of the law for selling an off-Roster handgun to individuals who are not “peace officers,” even though they are “sworn members” of the exempted agencies. That is wrong. DOJ is conflating the term “sworn member” in the “unsafe handgun” law with specific exceptions for “peace officers” created in other laws that apply when purchasing firearms, such as the “peace officer” exceptions to the 10-day waiting period and Firearm Safety Certificate (FSC).

In light of DOJ’s confusion, “sworn members” of the above referenced agencies who want to purchase firearms that are not on the Roster should bring written proof of their “sworn member” status to their local firearm dealer at the time of purchase (even though there is no requirement under California law that a “sworn member” of an agency provide written proof of the member’s status.) This should protect the firearm dealer and the sworn member. Any dealer processing these transactions should keep a copy of the sworn member’s letter along with the other transferee’s paperwork.

Sadly, this incorrect policy edict is yet another sad example of the California Department of Justice interpreting California law to satisfy its own inclinations about how the law should read, rather than how the law actually does read.

With some exceptions, the sale of any “unsafe handgun” is generally prohibited in California. Handguns that are not on the “Roster of Handguns Certified for Sale in California”  (incorrectly referred to as “unsafe handguns” under the law) cannot be sold by a licensed firearm retailer to the public.

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