Gun owners' rights groups sued Wednesday over a California firearms registration system they claim puts law-abiding gun owners at risk of criminal charges.
The lawsuit against state Attorney General Xavier Becerra and his Department of Justice alleges that the system for registering so-called bullet-button assault weapons was unavailable for most of the week before the July 1 deadline.
The bullet buttons allow users to rapidly exchange ammunition magazines on an assault-style weapon by using a small tool or the tip of a bullet.
Owners who were unable to register by the deadline now potentially face prosecution through no fault of their own, according to the lawsuit filed in Shasta County on behalf of three gun owners by The Calguns Foundation, Second Amendment Foundation, Firearms Policy Coalition and Firearms Policy Foundation.
Becerra's office did not respond to telephone and email messages.
Transporting an unregistered assault weapon, even to a shooting range, can be charged as a felony under California law, with a prison sentence ranging from four to six years.
The suit says gun owners tried repeatedly to register their weapons using different web browsers, hardware and multiple devices but failed because the system repeatedly crashed or timed out before their applications were completed.
The suit asks a judge to give owners more time to register using a working registration system.
"For a whole week the system was largely inaccessible, so people who wanted to comply with the law simply couldn't and now they face becoming criminals because they couldn't do what the law requires," said Alan Gottlieb, founder and executive vice president of the Second Amendment Foundation.
The suit alleges that state justice officials knew the registration system was flawed and understaffed and had a substantial backlog despite a temporary infusion of nearly $2.6 million and 27 employees.