• Ken Kraushaar

SSE 2.0? not so fast

Updated: Aug 4, 2020

hey guys,

hope this finds you healthy and safe.

Recently I received an email from a customer asking about a youtube video in which the personality was talking about ways to get the single shot exemption. in this video, it was suggested that if somebody could get a virgin frame, that it could then be used as a platform to make a single shot pistol and have it be exempt from the roster. unfortunately this suggestion is actually illegal, so I'd like to clear up a couple of things.

note: this question was in regards to a sig 320, but would apply to any semi-auto pistol

Short answer SSE 2.0 will get you and any dealer into trouble as you're violating the law as written, because the legislature actually did their homework when they wrote ab1964

here's the long answer:

Before they eliminated the single shot exemption, there was an actual place to do a dros for a single shot exempted pistol, whereas now there's an "exempt pistol" section. This was eliminated with AB1964 when they restricted the single shot exemption, because the SSE was being used to circumvent the handgun roster.

There is no exemption possible for "semi-automatic pistols" according to the AB1964:

"Existing law makes it a crime, punishable by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year, to manufacture, import into the state for sale, keep for sale, offer or expose for sale, give, or lend an unsafe handgun."

"This bill would instead make the provisions defining and governing unsafe handguns inapplicable to a single-shot pistol with a break top or bolt action. The bill would make this exemption inapplicable to a semiautomatic pistol that has been temporarily or permanently altered so that it will not fire in a semiautomatic mode. By expanding the definition of a crime, this bill would impose a state-mandated local program."

section b)

(b) Article 4 (commencing with Section 31900) and Article 5 (commencing with Section 32000) shall not apply to a single-shot pistol with a break top or bolt action and a barrel length of not less than six inches and that has an overall length of at least 10½ inches when the handle, frame or receiver, and barrel are assembled. However, Article 4 (commencing with Section 31900) and Article 5 (commencing with Section 32000) shall apply to a semiautomatic pistol that has been temporarily or permanently altered so that it will not fire in a semiautomatic mode."

By definition of how a semi-automatic pistol works and is typically sold, the gun, would still be considered a modified semi-automatic pistol platform, regardless of whether or not it can be fed/loaded with a magazine, even as an incomplete frame (ie virgin frame.)

ab1964 specifically addresses the difference between semi-autos, and revolvers; the revolver exemption allows for taking something like a chiappa rhino, or a ruger super redhawk (both double actions) and making it into a single action revolver, thus bypassing the roster specifically because of how the law is written because it's a revolver, and can be modified in terms of how it functions in a state sanctioned manner ,i.e. a double action revolver's trigger performs 2 actions, the trigger cocks the hammer and releases the hammer, whereas the single action revolver's hammer must be cocked as an individual operation, and in this way, a chiappa rhino or any other SAO revolver would be exempt from the roster because it's considered inherently safe in this mode of operation. (i.e. it cannot be accidentally fired without cocking the hammer.)

Because semi-autos like the sig 320 are not typically sold with a single shot variant, you wouldn't have the technical or legal precedent. most if not all manufactured true single shots pistols are bolt action, breach loaded, or have a rotating breach that is loaded like a canon (magnum research lone eagle,) or revolvers, and don't include blow-back operated actions.

also, again I would point out the sentence "artical 5 (commencing with section 32000) shall apply to a semiautomatic pistol that has been temporarily or permanently altered so that it will not fire in semiautomatic mode". a sig 320, or any other semi-auto for that matter, even with a frame that was incomplete from the manufacturer, would still be in violation because the frame being in this state would be a permanent modification to how that semi-auto is sold or designed to function.. further, because a sig 320 is modular, it would be too easy to swap out the frame once a firearm was transferred, making it a "temporary modification."

In the this case, even though the 320 would technically be a single shot, it's the fact that it's still the same semi-automatic platform that would cause it not to be exempt because of how the law is written, specifically because even if it were a virgin frame and never made able to fire from a magazine (i.e. a "permanent modification" to the design itself, in this case, from the manufacturer ), it still operates in the same manner as a semi-automatic that can accept a magazine, and could still potentially be made to accept one with the correct tooling, and thereby if anyone did an Exempt pistol DROS on one, they would likely be violating the law, should an inspection find such a transaction occur, amounting to loss of the FFL's license(s) to operate in the state of California and likely federally as well, and subject to any legal consequences, up to and including jail time, because it would be seen as a violation of the laws on the books.

You have to keep in mind that while the youtuber was at one point in time involved in the firearms trade, he is no longer involved directly in the gun business, and has become somewhat of a gun personality on YouTube- he is not a legal expert ; much of what he says is an opinion and speculation. fortunately for him, he says as much in almost all of his videos. Keep in mind that there have been videos he's put out that even include outdated information that were put out in a time where the laws had actually changed between the time he used to do DROS's, to the time he posted the video.

For reference, I actually know the guy that his employer used as a legal expert for firearms related stuff, and he would caution against trying to circumvent the law in this manner because the technical wiggle room just isn't there anymore, as he helps me with my own legal questions, as well as that of the Sebastopol Rifle and Pistol Club.

Don't get me wrong, the youtuber is a good guy, but doing as he suggests or as he suggests some FFLs might do, or are doing, to circumvent AB1964 regarding semi-autos, could get them into trouble with the DOJ due to the way the law is written.

If I were brought as an expert witness as a certified firearm specialist/gunsmith, for instance, I would not be able to to say that the gun does not function in the same manner as a semi-automatic pistol in terms of how it functions mechanically sans being able to load the magazine, because it is still uses ,in this case, the same short-recoil system operation in the same manner as the same guns made by SIG, glock, colt, etc etc, the controls are the same (i.e the safety mechanisms or lack there of in terms of CA's safety criteria/certification for approved guns) with a mag well cut, and would be an unfinished frame, or "modification" to how the firearm is typically offered, because of the fact that the law explicitly mentions "permanent modifications," which would, again in this case, be performed by the manufacturer, outside of the scope of normal sale and design of their firearm- i.e. it would come from them in a modified form of what they typically sell.

This would also pose legal ramifications to SIG, colt, nighthawk, glock, etc if they were to send an incomplete frame deliberately for this reason, as they themselves could be seen as providing a modified version of their firearm for those who wish to bypass the roster in this manner, as they don't typically have a single shot offering for their 320s, glocks, etc.

It might be a different story if they completely redesigned their operating system to work as a single shot, bolt action, thereby making it a completely different gun, and registered it with the ATF as such, but they don't do that as a matter of course.

at any rate, as written, they seem to have accounted for the "permanent modification" part, and in this case SIG does not make a single shot 320 for production use, nor do any other manufacturer, so the "exempt pistol" DROS would not not apply for this one, as AB1964 was specifically written in the way that it was so that the semi auto exemption was killed, because of the fact people were bypassing the roster in this manner, as well as adding blocks, etc to bypass the roster (something I researched about 10 years ago.), thus rendering any notion of SSE 2.0 as a non-starter from the get go.

it's actually easier to get a single shot saiga (or vepr, or AR shotgun,) than it is to work around the single shot pistol exemption, because of the way that the law is written.

Another thing I wanted to clear up is the fact that the ATF inspectors, in some cases, will verify that a dealer is following CA law. this is why one poster to the youtuber's page would say the ATF contacted dealers over performing SSE 2.0 transactions, and pulling licenses if the dealer was found to have violated the law. the ATF and the DOJ are so short staffed, that this is the only way they can cover all the dealers in California. being from the local gun shop, the youtuber may not have been aware of the fact that they do this, but it's actually not bunk, as he said, as in my case, since I'm a small dealer, I've had the ATF verify my compliance with both state and local law, and they also use the pending list for the DROS system to account for transactions in progress that may not have been yet completed in the bound book.

my best advice is to read the laws on the books, and read them from a technical sense, i.e. how the gun is meant to function, and that will give you the way that an attorney or prosecutor would approach an legal case. if it doesn't conform with the letter of the law, as written, then any modification will likely fail under legal scrutiny, and thus, be deemed illegal.

as always, stay safe and happy shooting.

Ken Kraushaar is a gunsmith and Certified Firearms Specialist , Pistol instructor, and RSO, living and operating his shop in sonoma county california. when he's not at the shop, he can be found at many of the local shooting ranges, or out enjoying many of the county's state and regional parks. Ken has over 33 years of shooting experience, and has been a gunsmith for approximately 10 years.

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