Existing laws already require the serialization of guns sold from major distributors.
The change comes in the criminalization of private citizens who have no desire to sell firearms but enjoy the hobby of producing guns or like the idea of owning a firearm the government doesn’t know about, which, you would think, is protected under the second amendment.
There are two popular means of privately manufacturing an unregistered gun from scratch, today, that this bill appears to be targeting: 3-D printed guns, and guns assembled through the milling of an unfinished lower receiver; colloquially, these are referred to as ghost guns. You can’t talk about either of these methods without mentioning Cody Wilson.
Wilson, an anarchist, and founder of Defense Distributed, gained infamy in 2013 after being the first to design and manufacture a fully functional 3-D printed gun, the Liberator. After posting a video online, he then posted the blueprints free of charge and within 24 hours they had been downloaded over 100,000 times.
3-D printed firearms have come along way since 2013. While the Liberator was only safe for one firing, new designs which incorporate both 3-D printed plastic and metal are vastly more efficient and practical. In addition, advances in technology have finally achieved metal 3-D printing, meaning that, once the cost of this technology is lowered significantly, there won’t be anything stopping someone from printing an entire armory of unregistered military-grade firearms in their garage; though, this is likely decades away. In fact, companies such as Solid Concepts have already produced 1911 pistols through this method, which withstood over 1000 consecutive firings. Under Assembly Bill No. 857, these will require registration and a background check.
What, then, about lower receivers? A lower receiver is the firearm’s frame which holds the firing mechanism, hammer, bolt, etc. If there is no receiver, there is no firearm. For this reason, no other part of a firearm’s sale is regulated, and all other parts can be purchased without government knowledge – you could get every other part of a gun from retailers on Amazon if you were so inclined. The only part of a firearm which manufacturers are legally required to serialize in the US is this completed receiver. However, unfinished receivers (receivers which cannot yet hold a firearm’s parts) can be purchased legally and anonymously, as, until a receiver is finished, it’s considered just another piece of metal.
This is the reason Wilson’s Ghost Gunner, a compact, general purpose milling machine, has become so attractive since its inception to anarchists, libertarians, gun enthusiasts, and constitutionally-minded people alike. The machine takes an 80% unfinished receiver (which Wilson also sells) and mills it down to a fully functioning receiver, capable of being used in the assembly of an AR-15, AR-308, and now even handguns. In this way, one can assemble a fully functional firearm in their garage that is unknown, unregistered, and untraceable in roughly 3 hours. And it’s all completely legal in the US… That is, until now.
After July 1st, California state law will require any person desiring to manufacture the finished lower receiver to apply to the California Department of Justice and pay a fee for a serial number which must be engraved on the lower receiver upon completion. This, of course, defeats the entire purpose of manufacturing a gun one wishes to own privately and anonymously.
The bill appears to have been approved under the pretext of tracing unregistered guns that have been manufactured privately and have been used in crimes. However, will it accomplish this? It’s unlikely.
From a financial perspective, 3-D printed guns and receiver milling still isn’t a viable option to produce weapons intended for crime. For instance, Solid Concepts’ 3-D printed 1911 pistol retails at $11,900.00 USD – the printer that made it costs much more. Wilson’s Ghost Gunner 2 costs $1,675.00 USD, an 80% AR-308 unfinished receiver is sold at $85.00 USD, and then you still need to purchase all the component parts to complete the firearm. Put simply, there are better options if you want an unregistered gun than privately manufacturing them, such as purchasing a gun off the Dark Web or on the street from another criminal.
The targets of this law, then, appear to be gun enthusiasts and hobbyists. As often is the case, this newest gun control law seems to be more about government monitoring of law abiding citizens, rather than protecting the populace.