California’s Department of Justice has determined the SKS “Sporter”
rifle is illegal and is offering owners $230 for the rifles through Jan.
Gun owners are crying foul and charge the new interpretation of an old
law violates the Second Amendment and is unconstitutional.
Sam Paredes, the deputy director of Gun Owners of California, said many
gun owners are concerned about the apparent power of the state to
arbitrarily designate some guns as illegal and other guns as legal.
“You’ve got laws that are being passed that are unconstitutional,” said
Aaron Zelman, executive director of Jews for the Preservation of
Firearms Ownership, “but because they’re a law, they have the color of
law. They’re lawful from the standpoint of those who want to accept this
as justice. Those who want to accept this as the law.”
Steve Helsley, a spokesperson for the National Rifle Association of
America agrees. He said: “It is, I believe, an infringement of Second
Amendment rights, but it is so poorly conceived and drafted, that even
those who want to comply (with the law) can’t figure out how to do it.”
The confusion Helsley is referring to started in 1989, when the state
legislature passed the Roberti-Roos Assault Weapons Control Act. At the
time the law was enacted, there were two distinct models of the SKS
rifle — one with a fixed magazine, and one designed to accept a
detachable magazine, the “Sporter” model.
The Roberti-Roos law effectively banned the SKS rifle with the
detachable magazine, however, it didn’t ban it completely. Although gun
shops couldn’t sell the SKS with a detachable magazine anymore, owners
of the gun could still keep them as long as they complied with a
background check and had the gun registered.
“It was known at the time that the definition (of the ban) wasn’t very
good,” said Helsley, “but given the speed at which the bill moved
through and given the whole political process of the time, that was
probably the best that could be done.”
Complicating things further, a series of after-market kits that
converted the SKS rifle with a fixed magazine to one with a detachable
magazine began to be sold. These kits, however, were not anticipated by
the writers of the Roberti-Roos law.
The situation became more complicated for the writers of the
Roberti-Roos law in 1992 when then California Attorney General, Dan
Lungren, approved the sale of Chinese-designed SKS, which use detachable
Even though Lungren said the SKS “Sporter” was legal to sell, some
district attorneys throughout the state threatened to arrest anyone who
sold the gun claiming it violated the Roberti-Roos law.
One of the more famous arrestees was James Dingman of Santa Clara for
possession of an unregistered SKS rifle with a fixed magazine. He also
bought an after-market detachable magazine kit for the gun.
Although the state’s Department of Justice said Dingman didn’t have to
register his “fixed magazine” SKS — even if he placed a detachable
magazine on it — he was arrested because local law enforcement
mistakenly identified it as a gun that needed to be registered.
After a number of appearances in court as well as appeals, the
California Supreme Court agreed to review Dingman’s case. It is still
awaiting a decision today.
Because of all the confusion surrounding the legality of owning any of
the SKS rifles, California passed AB 48 to grant immunity to them.
However, AB 48 also set up the state’s current buyback program of SKS
“Sporters” because Lungren in 1997, under political pressure in a run
for the governor’s office, reversed his earlier decision about SKS
rifles with detachable magazines making them illegal.
Now, all SKS “Sporters” are illegal and are being bought back by the
Regarding the law which makes SKS “Sporters” illegal, Zelman said, “I
think organized crime is going to be thrilled with it. We are
approaching another form of prohibition that will organize and enrich
the criminal element.”
“When organized crime moves in and fills the void in firearms, they’re
not going to waste their time with puny SKS rifles. You’ll start to see
fully automatic machine guns,” Zelman added reflecting on what he thinks
will happen if the government ever completely bans firearms.
Speaking of the buyback plan that was built into AB 48, Paredes said,
“It’s stupid. People purchased their SKS rifles anywhere from $88 to
$128 dollars. I don’t know how they came up with that $230 number, but
in their own, inevitable way, the government can do stuff. They came up
with a ridiculous number.”
Paredes also expressed concern that when people turn in their guns,
their name will become part of a government database.
“When people turn in these guns and they get their vouchers, you know
there name is going to go into a hat,” said Paredes. It’s going to go
into a database as a previous owner of an illegal assault gun and that
WorldNetDaily contacted Stephen P. Halbrook, an attorney who is an
expert on Second Amendment issues, in an effort to find out the legal
nature of the California law. In addition to practicing law, Halbrook is
a former philosophy professor and wrote several books on the Second
Amendment as well as other constitutional issues.
Halbrook said the law is unconstitutional, but he added that the Ninth
Circuit Court of Appeals in California often doesn’t recognize bearing
arms as a legitimate right. The Ninth Circuit has “been all over the
board” regarding Second Amendment issues, according to Halbrook.
“I think it’s a travesty the way certain elements in the judiciary have
treated the Second Amendment,” said Halbrook.
“This is no different than if they banned WorldNetDaily or the San
Francisco Chronicle and say (to the newspapers’ readership), ‘Here’s
five dollars for your subscription,'” Halbrook added.
“In my opinion, the law is unconstitutional, but probably no California
court is going to say it’s unconstitutional. That’s the bottom line,”
said Halbrook. “I welcome somebody to use some constitutional doctrine
and find a court they can convince to strike this law down. I think that
would be wonderful.”
WorldNetDaily attempted numerous times to contact current state Attorney
General Bill Lockyer for comment, but his office never returned the