California Imposes Strict New Regulations on Airguns
Air rifles and air pistols are not considered “firearms” under federal law. Therefore, in all 50 states, air rifles and air pistols can be purchased “over the counter”, without background checks. The lack of controls on pneumatic guns has long troubled many California lawmakers who have “taken aim” at the airgun industry with tough new legislation. This year, California extends its sweeping gun-control policies to air rifles and pistols under the terms of new legislation, AB 1984, recently codified into law. Under this bill, air rifle and pistol owners will be required to pay an “Air Excise Tax” on all canister refills and CO2 propellants. In addition, all refills must be done by state-licensed air refill centers operated by the California Air Resources Board (CARB). In order to qualify for refills (and purchase propellant cartridges), air rifle and pistol owners must first obtain a state-endorsed “Air User Certificate”, which will cost $95.00, renewable annually. These new regulations take effect June 1, 2009.
New Law Carries Stiff Penalties, Yet Fear of Air “Black Market” Persists
Recognizing that air is an abundant and otherwise free resource, the new law contains tough provisions to prevent air rifle and pistol owners from filling their air canisters from non-approved sources. Any air rifle/pistol owner caught refilling canisters from a private pump or compressor will be subject to a $10,000 fine for the first offense, with criminal penalties (up to 5 years in prison) for repeat offenders. This may, initially, cause some practical problems. Currently, CARB has no certified filling stations for airguns, and given California’s current budgetary crisis, it may be many months before the first filling stations come on-line. In the mean-time, using $8.3 million in Federal Stimulus funding, CARB will hire 65 “Air Security & Surveillance Officers” (ASSOs) to find scoff-laws who continue to fill their airguns with unregistered air. Some observers worry that one unfortunate side-effect of AB 1984 could be the creation of a criminalized “black market” for air in the Golden State.
Democratic legislators praised the new regulations. An official statement by the Assembly Democratic Caucus declared: “This is a great day for all Californians. Air rifles can be just as dangerous as powder-fired weapons. These air rifles are silent killers and even when used for target sports they can put your eye out.” California Governor Schwarzenegger did not issue a formal statement about the new Air Excise Tax. However an aide to the Governor, who declined to be named, remarked: “Look, this state is $40 billion in the red. Any new revenue source is welcome.” Off the record, he added: “We tax gasoline, we tax real estate, we tax health care, we tax income, we tax all the products you buy in stores, and we even tax you when you die. Why not tax air? It’s brilliant. Heck, if we could tax sunshine, we would”.
The California State Employees Union also expressed support for the new legislation, noting that it would create up to 200 new, permanent high-paying jobs. Sacramento has an abundance of workers skilled in the dispensing of hot air, so CARB believes it can quickly fill the new positions mandated by AB 1984. The California Legislative Analyst’s Office (CLAO), tasked with estimating the costs of new legislation, has predicted that Air Excise Tax revenues should “more than cover the hardware costs of air filling stations.” However, the CLAO cautioned that “attendant administrative and enforcement costs, including salaries, entitlements, and mandatory pensions, could run into the tens of millions of dollars annually.” Asked to comment on those projected costs, AB 1984’s author, Assemblywoman Juanita Wilson (D. Berkeley), observed: “Let’s worry about that later. This is about Hope and about Change…we’re doing this for the children. Plus California needs jobs, and my ground-breaking legislation will put hundreds of Californians back to work.”
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