Gunmakers Protest Microstamping Law In Calif.

California's new microstamping law effects all new or redesigned semi-automatic handguns sold in the state. It requires they be equipped with laser technology that imprints a handgun's make, model and serial number onto shell casings when a bullet is fired. Two manufacturers are pulling some of their products out of California.

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NPR's business news includes halted gun sales in California.


INSKEEP: Two of the nation's largest gun manufacturers have announced they will stop selling semiautomatic handguns in California. This is because of a dispute over a new identification law. NPR's Kirk Siegler reports.

KIRK SIEGLER, BYLINE: California's new micro stamping law affects all new or redesigned semiautomatic handguns sold here. It requires they be equipped with laser technology that imprints a handgun's make, model and serial number onto shell casings when a bullet is fired. The idea is that police at a crime scene would have another tool to link a gun to a shooting.

Mike Feuer first wrote the bill that passed the California legislature back in 2007. He's now the city attorney for Los Angeles.

MIKE FEUER: It'll enable law enforcement to crack down on gun crime, and to put behind bars gun criminals who otherwise would never be effectively prosecuted because there would never be a lead in those cases.

SIEGLER: But gun manufacturers have long questioned the technology. They argue that if it worked, more law enforcement agencies would use it. They don't - and they're exempt from the micro stamping law. Recently, Smith and Wesson and Sturm Ruger put even more weight behind that argument. They're stopping selling semiautomatic handguns in California markets altogether, rather than comply with the new law.

DAVE KOPEL: This is a slow-motion handgun ban.

SIEGLER: Dave Kopel is a policy analyst at the libertarian-leaning Cato Institute, and law professor at the University of Denver. He says micro stamping would work if criminals actually registered their guns. In reality, he says, most don't. And Kopel sees micro stamping as an excuse to gather data about all gun owners, not just criminals.

KOPEL: In a way, it's sort of a parallel to the NSA. You can either selectively wiretap the suspected bad guys, or you could try to get everybody's email and read everything.

FEUER: Well, it's baloney.

SIEGLER: LA city attorney Mike Feuer says the flap over gun rights and micro stamping is being overblown. He says it's about curbing gun violence in cities like his.

FEUER: No gun owner who has that gun for self-defense has any reason to object to micro stamping. All micro stamping does is provide law enforcement with leads in gun crime.

SIEGLER: That's now an argument before the courts. Two lawsuits have been filed seeking to overturn the micro stamping law; one in federal court and another, most recently, in state court. The suits will be closely watched, as will the fallout from the gun manufacturers' decision to stop selling certain handguns in California. At least three other states with gun laws closely aligned with California's are considering similar legislation.

Kirk Siegler, NPR News.

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