NSSF v. State of California: Defending California’s Groundbreaking Handgun Microstamping Law
Update — On June 28, 2018, the California Supreme Court issued a favorable decision rejecting the National Shooting Sports Foundation’s challenge to California’s microstamping law, siding with the position Giffords Law Center argued for in our amicus brief.
Case Information: National Shooting Sports Foundation Inc. v. State of California, No. S239397 (California Supreme Court brief filed Nov. 13, 2017).
At Issue: In 2007, California passed a law designed to reduce the number of unsolved gun crimes by requiring that new handgun models sold in the state include microstamping technology. Microstamping imprints a serial number onto shell casings when a shot is fired, and represents a significant improvement on traditional ballistic identification techniques. Unsurprisingly, law enforcement groups strongly support this revolutionary crime-solving tool. However, gun manufacturers have repeatedly opposed microstamping, first by attempting to block action by the California legislature, and then by refusing to sell new handgun models in the state. The latest volley by the gun industry came when an industry group filed litigation arguing that the microstamping law is invalid because it is infeasible for gunmakers to comply with it. In NSSF v. State of California, the California Supreme Court has taken up the narrow legal question of whether gun manufacturers may file suit against a duly-enacted product regulation by claiming compliance is “impossible” (NSSF’s lawsuit does not raise any broader constitutional claims).
Giffords Law Center’s Brief: Our brief argues that microstamping has been shown to be a feasible and reliable technology in empirical studies and live demonstrations before police officers. But even accepting NSSF’s baseless claim about the technology’s feasibility, the lawsuit must still be dismissed, because California’s microstamping law does not require gunmakers to do what they claim is impossible. Rather, the law merely bars introducing new handgun models in the state until gunmakers sufficiently develop microstamping technology and are able to implement it—which the evidence suggests is already easily possible. Our brief explains that the microstamping law is therefore consistent with a longstanding tradition of laws that require manufacturers to improve the safety or mitigate the environmental impact of a given product in order to have continued access to a state market. For instance, California leads the nation by setting emissions caps which carmakers must meet to sell vehicles in the state. Allowing NSSF’s unsupported “impossibility” claim would threaten the validity of such emissions standards, and many other commonplace consumer regulations that are essential to protecting public health and safety.