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California Demands All SKS
Rifles Be Turned In

6-24-99


Y2KNEWSWIRE has confirmed with the California State Attorney General office: certain firearms are now under a confiscation order. This, also posted on a state-run web site. California residents must turn in their SKS rifles by 1/1/2000 -- precisely the Y2K rollover date -- or face criminal prosecution. Recently-enacted legislation mandates this confiscation, calling it a "buyback" program and offering to reimburse gun owners $230 per "relinquished" rifle.
 
Amid cries from gun owners that their Second Amendment rights are being further trampled just in time for Y2K, Y2KNEWSWIRE hit the phones to find out exactly what's going on here.
 
We spoke with Nathan Barankin, Director of Communications for the California Attorney General office, who informed us that this recent SKS gun ban issue arises from an unresolved legal definition. California was one of the first states to pass a ban on so-called "assault weapons," which included the SKS rifle -- but only if the rifle had a detachable magazine. Rifles with fixed, non-removable magazines were exempt from this confiscation order, but those with removable magazine had to be recorded ("registered") and turned over to government authorities.
 
Many owners of fixed-magazine SKS rifles later converted them to removable-magazine models. At the time, the Attorney General (who is not the current AG) wrote a letter to these gun owners assuring them that these rifles were perfectly legal and not subject to the gun confiscation order.
 
In 1996, a man owning one of these converted rifles was arrested in Santa Clara County and prosecuted by the District Attorney for possessing an illegal firearm. The case wound its way to the state Supreme Court where a decision was finally handed down: yes, indeed, these rifles are illegal, the court said.
 
This ruling created instant criminals. Barankin told Y2KNEWSWIRE, "So what we had in 1997 was, by judicial ruling, a law that says all these people who had been informed that these weapons were legal were now suddenly felons."
 
Yes: a state court decision transformed law-abiding citizens into felons. Recognizing the obvious problem here, the state legislature passed a bill that would allow owners of these newly-illegal SKS rifles a "window of opportunity" to turn them in without being prosecuted as felons. Barankin says, "This was not something that the legislature took a great deal of pleasure in doing." In fact, the author of this bill was a former chapter president of the NRA in Los Angeles.
 
Currently, the Attorney General is trying to get the word out to people so that local police aren't forced to arrest these newly-defined "felons" who would likely end up doing time in prison for owning a gun that the state previously assured them was perfectly legal!
 
THAT'S THE LEGAL DESCRIPTION But the story may be much larger than this. Barankin told Y2KNEWSWIRE about the trees, not the forest. We threw out a wildcard and asked Barankin his thoughts on the parallels between California's gun confiscation program and Adolf Hitler's gun registration (and subsequent confiscation) that ultimately helped the regime kill millions of ethnic Jews with minimum resistance.
 
He didn't waver. He answered, "Let me put it this way, Bill Lockyer [the Attorney General] himself is a supporter of the 2nd Amendment. What the state is attempting to do is enact reasonable gun control laws that are necessary to protect the public. One of those laws covers the assault weapons."
 
We asked whether the current confiscation order would soon be expanded to other firearms. Barankin told us, "No." He explained further, "This is a very narrow situation, necessitated by the poor interpretation of an existing law and a court ruling. The state of California is not interested in getting in the business of confiscating anyone's weapons."
 
Y2KNEWSWIRE then asked about the confiscation deadline: 1/1/2000. Just in time for Y2K. Barankin answered, "It is a coincidence. This was a law that was enacted in late Fall, last year, and generally laws that are passed in California become effective the next January 1, so they just wanted to give people a year to comply with the law."
 
According to Barankin, then, this gun confiscation order has nothing to do with Y2K and everything to do with correcting a legal snafu. Barankin, by the way, was very straightforward and more than happy to answer even our most aggressive questions.
 
A CLOSER LOOK AT THE CONFISCATION ORDER AND POTENTIAL Y2K RAMIFICATIONS Interestingly, the web site describing the gun confiscation program does contain phrases reminiscent of authoritarian control: "Procedures to turn in your [rifle]" and "...persons in California possessing an SKS semi-automatic rifle with a detachable magazine may be subject to prosecution, and the weapon subject to seizure..." Further instructions tell rifle owners, "To relinquish your [rifle] to your local law enforcement agency, you must strictly adhere to the following guidelines..."
 
The only people allowed to own these rifles are those with the right "papers," authorized by state officials. All this sounds a little too familiar, and it has probably only worsened the fear of those individuals theorizing that Y2K will result in the invocation of various Executive Orders that activate the widespread confiscation of firearms. The State of California, it seems, did not go out its way to make sure its gun confiscation instructions did not add to this fear.
 
CRIMINALS PROBABLY WON'T COMPLY Y2KNEWSWIRE has learned that at least one person in the state Dept. of Justice does not think this will remove these guns from the hands of criminals. We spoke with a senior level employee in the California Dept. of Justice who told us, under condition that we do not attribute the quote to him, "I haven't heard anybody say anything other than only the law-abiding people will turn them in."
 
As this Dept. of Justice employee points out, efforts to confiscate guns from criminals often has the opposite effect: criminals ignore the law while law-abiding gun owners comply. This further empowers criminals by changing the ratio of gun possession. After the confiscation is complete, criminals know that fewer private citizens have firearms with which to defend themselves.
 
THE Y2K EFFECT In the context of Y2K, this current California gun confiscation order simply means that the ratio of armed criminals to unarmed citizens will be higher still. The (voting) majority of Californians have defined this as "safety," and this new level of "safety" will be achieved precisely on January 1, 2000. Oblivious to historical parallels, California says it is simply trying to clean up a surprise legal ruling that instantly redefined thousands of law-abiding citizens as "criminals."
 
The story here isn't directly about guns, really; it's about a state bureaucracy that allows itself to become mired in details while avoiding the Year 2000 question: will these laws make the people safer when Y2K arrives? Or, put another way, will increasing the ratio of armed criminals to unarmed citizens result in fewer crimes being committed during any potential Y2K disruption?
 
When we posed this very question to another mid-level employee at the Attorney General office, he disavowed having anything to do with those "top-level" decisions, saying, "We have a leader in this department that tells us what to do."
 
Stricken with disbelief at the invocation of that phrase -- "just following orders" -- we ended the interview.
 
In the end, we were left with a splintered picture of what's going on with gun control and Y2K in California. There is no conspiracy in this isolated case. Well-meaning individuals are attempting to prevent everyday citizens from being arrested as felons by giving them time to turn in these firearms suddenly deemed "illegal." But the people in charge seem unconcerned about the end result of their actions. They're enforcing a state Supreme Court decision, oblivious to either the historical parallels or the Y2K ramifications of their actions. They did not seem deceptive, "evil" or malicious. They did, however, seem ignorant of the geopolitical history of gun control and how increasing the ratio of armed criminals to unarmed citizens during Y2K might be a terrible idea.

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