Roberti–Roos Assault Weapons Control Act of 1989
This article needs to be updated.(January 2018)
The Roberti–Roos Assault Weapons Control Act of 1989 (AWCA) is a California law that bans the ownership and transfer of over 50 specific brands and models of semi-automatic firearms, which were classified as assault weapons. Most were rifles, but some were pistols and shotguns. The law was amended in 1999 to restrict acquisition and transfer of magazines that could hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition. Firearms and magazines that were legally owned at the time the law was passed were grandfathered if they were registered with the California Department of Justice. The law was overturned in June 2021 in Miller v. Bonta; the ruling is stayed pending appeal.
The act was a direct response to the deaths of five schoolchildren in the Cleveland Elementary School shooting in Stockton that year. The co-author of the legislation, California State Senate President pro tem David Roberti, found himself the subject of a recall attempt by the gun lobby in 1994. He survived that, but later that year lost a Democratic primary election for the office of California State Treasurer. The loss was considered a result of the immense campaign finance costs of defending against the recall, and the draining of those finances. Assembly Speaker pro tem, Mike Roos who retired in 1991, was the other co-author.
California penal code categories
There are three categories of assault weapons under California law:
- Category I are those firearms specified on the original Roberti–Roos assault weapons list. They are identified by make and model in Penal Code §30510.
- Category II are those firearms specified in the AK and AR-15 series weapons list. They are also listed in Penal Code §30510.
- Category III are firearms defined as such based on specific generic characteristics, also referred to as "SB 23 assault weapons." They are defined in Penal Code §12276.1 and §30515.
The Roberti–Roos Assault Weapons Control Act of 1989 was augmented in 1999. It has also inspired follow-on legislation such as .50 Caliber BMG Regulation Act of 2004 and further restrictions on semi-automatic firearms. From the website of the California Attorney General's office:
Effective January 1, 2000, Senate Bill 23, Statutes of 1999, establishes new criteria for defining assault weapons based on generic characteristics. This bill allows and requires persons who own/possess firearms that fall under the new "assault weapon" definition to register those firearms with the Department of Justice during the one-year period between January 1, 2000 and December 31, 2000. Effective January 1, 2000, this bill adds Penal Code Section 12276.1 to the Penal Code.
Firearms prohibited by make and model (Category I & II)
- (1) All AK series including, but not limited to, the models identified as follows:
- (2) IMI UZI and Galil.
- (3) Beretta AR-70.
- (4) CETME Sporter.
- (5) Colt AR-15 series.
- (6) Daewoo K-1, K-2, Max 1, Max 2, AR 100, and AR110C.
- (7) Fabrique Nationale FAL, LAR, FNC, 308 Match, and Sporter.
- (8) MAS 223.
- (9) Heckler & Koch HK-91, HK-93, HK-94, and HK-PSG-1.
- (10) The following MAC types:
- (A) RPB Industries Inc, sM10 and sM11.
- (B) SWD Incorporated M11.
- (11) SKS with detachable magazine.
- (12) SIG AMT, PE-57, SG 550, and SG 551.
- (13) Springfield Armory BM59 and SAR-48.
- (14) Sterling MK-6.
- (15) Steyr AUG.
- (16) Valmet M62S, M71S, and M78S.
- (17) Armalite AR-180.
- (18) Calico M-900.
- (19) J&R ENG M-68.
- (20) Weaver Arms Nighthawk.
(b) The following specified pistols:
- (1) IMI UZI.
- (2) Encom MP-9 and MP-45.
- (3) The following MAC types:
- (A) RPB Industries Inc, sM10 and sM11.
- (B) SWD Incorporated M-11.
- (C) Advance Armament Inc. M-11.
- (D) Military Armament Corp. Ingram —11.
- (4) Intratec TEC-9.
- (5) Sites Spectre.
- (6) Sterling MK-7.
- (7) Calico M-950.
- (8) Bushmaster Pistol.
(c) The following specified shotguns:
- (1) Franchi SPAS 12 and LAW 12.
- (2) Striker 12.
- (3) The Streetsweeper type S/S Inc, SS/12. (see Striker)
Firearms prohibited by configuration (Category III)
Other firearms are banned from sale or possession by certain characteristics or configuration as determined by parts or features. If an undefined firearm is modified with any of the following characteristics, it can subsequently be classified as a banned assault weapon. These are as given in Penal Code section 12276.1 and 30515:
- (1) A semiautomatic, centerfire rifle that has the capacity to accept a detachable magazine and any one of the following:
- (2) A semiautomatic, centerfire rifle that has a fixed magazine with the capacity to accept more than 10 rounds.
- (3) A semiautomatic, centerfire rifle that has an overall length of less than 30 inches [762 mm].
- (4) A semiautomatic pistol that has the capacity to accept a detachable magazine and any one of the following:
- (A) A threaded barrel, capable of accepting a flash suppressor, forward handgrip, or silencer (suppressor).
- (B) A second handgrip.
- (C) A shroud that is attached to, or partially or completely encircles, the barrel that allows the bearer to fire the weapon without burning his or her hand, except a slide that encloses the barrel.
- (D) The capacity to accept a detachable magazine at some location outside of the pistol grip.
- (5) A semiautomatic pistol with a fixed magazine that has the capacity to accept more than 10 rounds.
- (6) A semiautomatic shotgun that has both of the following:
- (A) A folding or telescoping stock.
- (B) A pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the weapon, thumbhole stock, or vertical handgrip.
- (7) A semiautomatic shotgun that has the ability to accept a detachable magazine.
- (8) Any shotgun with a revolving cylinder.
The amended legislation included the following:
- (A) "Assault weapon" does not include any antique firearm.
- (B) The following definitions shall apply under this section:
- "Magazine" shall mean any ammunition feeding device.
- "Capacity to accept more than 10 rounds" shall mean capable of accommodating more than 10 rounds, but shall not be construed to include a feeding device that has been permanently altered so that it cannot accommodate more than 10 rounds.
- "Antique firearm" means any firearm manufactured prior to January 1, 1899.
Related court cases
Kasler v. Lockyer
The California Supreme Court handed down its decision in Kasler v. Lockyer in August 2000. The original suit, in the mid-1990s, challenged the constitutionality of California's 1989 Roberti–Roos assault weapons ban. The Court found in favor of the defendants, Attorney General Bill Lockyer and the State of California; one resulting aspect of this decision was that the AWCA '89 "series" terminology used for AR and AK type weapons applied to all similar weapons, regardless of nomenclature (manufacturer, model number, version, variant, etc.).
The result of the Kasler v. Lockyer was a list of AR and AK-style firearms that are banned in California by name. These firearms include the Armalite AR-15, Bushmaster XM-15, Colt AR-15, Kalashnikov USA Hunter Rifle, MAADI CO AK-47, ARM, MISR, and MISTR, to name a few. There are a total of 84 firearms that are banned by name on this list.
Harrott v. Kings County
In June 2001, the California Supreme Court handed down its decision in Harrott v. County of Kings (25 P.3d 649 (Cal. 2001) that contravened portions of the Kasler decision. This determined the following:
a) Determination of "series" inclusion (series member) is difficult enough that owners and law enforcement should merely have to consult a list of specific makes and models (in California Code of Regulation) to know if their gun is a prohibited firearm.
b) Trial courts cannot determine if a given firearm/receiver is of the AR or AK "series". Prohibited weapons in AR/AK "series" must be specifically identified by make and model and the Department of Justice (DOJ) must promulgate this list.
c) DOJ has authority to 'identify' and promulgate new members of the AR & AK "series" itself. This authority is limited to AR and AK series firearms/receivers.
d) DOJ cannot prohibit other firearms outside the AR/AK series and must begin an "add-on" procedure filed in certain superior courts, as specified in Penal Code 30520. The DOJ can first seek a temporary declaration that given firearms are assault weapon before categorizing it permanently.
e) DOJ determinations of AR/AK "series" membership are subject to challenge and verification.
Miller v. Bonta
On June 4, 2021, Senior Judge Roger Benitez of the United States District Court for the Southern District of California ruled that the act was an unconstitutional restriction on Second Amendment rights. The ruling was stayed for 30 days pending appeal.
This style of rifle is made by combining an AR-15 upper receiver with an AR-15 lower receiver which has not been banned by specific name, and which has a fixed, non-detachable 10-round (maximum, anything above 10 is a felony) magazine. In such a configuration, otherwise prohibited features such as a telescoping stock, pistol grip, and flash hider may be present. While formerly prohibited under the now-expired federal assault weapon ban of 1994–2004, the presence of a bayonet lug is not prohibited by California state law and can be present on firearms without violation. However, the magazine cannot be detachable, so to load the rifle the shooter must "top load". To top-load, the shooter pulls the rear takedown pin, hinges the upper receiver on the front pivot pin, and loads the now exposed magazine. Alternatively, several "magazine lock" devices are available which replace the magazine release button with an inset pin that requires the use of a special tool to release the magazine, thereby, disallowing a readily "detachable magazine", to be compliant with California state firearms law. 
If a rifle has none of the prohibited features (pistol grip, telescoping or folding stock, flash hider, grenade/flare launcher, forward pistol grip), there are several products available on the market to configure featureless rifles. The California DOJ Bureau of Firearms has attested under oath that the U-15 stock, the Hammerhead Grip and the MonsterMan Grip do not constitute a pistol grip and are therefore legal when used on a detachable magazine semiautomatic centerfire rifle with none of the other features listed in CA PC 30515(a)(1)(A-F).
Off-list lower receivers
Most AR-15 manufacturers now make lower receivers which qualify as "Off-List" Lower (OLL) receivers which are legal to possess and use in the state of California. With regard to standard capacity magazine devices, after January 1, 2000, it is illegal to offer for sale, import, manufacture, give, or lend (although it is legal to possess and use) any detachable box magazine with a capacity exceeding 10 cartridges. Individuals possessing such magazines at a lawful location such as a gun range may only allow use of their lawfully owned standard-capacity magazines by another if they are in the immediate vicinity of the person using such items.
- Assault weapons legislation in the United States
- Gun laws in California
- Gun laws in the United States by state
- Gun politics in the United States
- "Assault Weapons Identification Guide", California Department of Justice. Retrieved January 25, 2013.
- "Firearms Laws – 2007", California Department of Justice. Retrieved January 25, 2013.
- MILLER v BONTA Decision
- Barmann, Jay (July 30, 2019). "Regarding the 1989 Schoolyard Shooting That Prompted California to Ban Assault Weapons". SFist. San Francisco: Gothamist. Retrieved June 6, 2021.
- Escalante, Eric (January 17, 2019). "Need to Know: The 1989 Cleveland School Shooting". Sacramento, California: KXTV. Retrieved June 6, 2021.
- Two for the Money, LA Weekly, Howard Blume, September 12, 2001. Retrieved November 5, 2018.
- "Mike Roos". Mike Roos. Retrieved November 5, 2018.
- "Kasler v. Lockyer Assault Weapons List", California Department of Justice, October 2, 2000. Retrieved January 25, 2013.
- Perata. "Addition to Roberti–Roos Assault Weapons Control Act of 1989 – Enactment of Generic Assault Weapon Ban/Registration Requirements and Ban on Manufacture, Sale or Transfer of "Large-Capacity" Magazines". Senate Committee on Public Safety, Senator John Vasconcellos, Chair 1999-2000 Regular Session. Retrieved 13 May 2014.
- "What is considered an assault weapon under California law?". oag.ca.gov. California DOJ. 2014. Retrieved May 12, 2014.
- Rosenberg, Jeremy (30 July 2012). "Behind California's Ban on Assault Weapons". KCET. Retrieved 13 May 2014.
- Staff (16 December 2011). "Senate Bill 23 Assault Weapon Characteristics". California Attorney General. Retrieved 24 May 2014.
- "Penal Code Section 30500-30530". leginfo.ca.gov. Legislative Counsel of California. 2014. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved May 12, 2014.
- Staff. "97 Cal.Rptr.2d 334 (2000) 23 Cal.4th 472 2 P.3d 581 Peter Alan KASLER et al., Plaintiffs and Appellants, v. Bill LOCKYER, as Attorney General, etc., et al., Defendants and Respondents. No. S069522". Supreme Court of California. Retrieved 13 May 2014.
- "SB 880 Senate Bill - Bill Analysis".
- Sworn testimony of Frank Navarro, California DOJ Bureau of Firearms Special Agent, in the case of People vs. Haack and Haack, California County of Tulare Superior Court, November 3, 2010.
- California Penal Code § 32310.
- "CALIFORNIA PENAL CODE", Part 6, Title 4, Div. 10, Chap. 2. ASSAULT WEAPONS AND .50 BMG RIFLES, California Legislative Counsel, 2019
- Article 1. §30500-30530 General Provisions
- Article 2. §30600-30675 Unlawful Acts Relating to Assault Weapons and .50 BMG Rifles
- Article 3. §30710-30735 SKS Rifles
- Article 4. §30800 Assault Weapon or .50 BMG Rifle Constituting Nuisance
- Article 5. §30900-30965 Registration of Assault Weapons and .50 BMG Rifles and Related Rules
- Article 6. §31000-31005 Permits for Assault Weapons and .50 BMG Rifles
- Article 7. §31050-31055 Licensed Gun Dealers
- Article 8. §31100-31115 Miscellaneous Provisions