There are some things in life that are truly mysterious. Who first realized that grinding up the extremely bitter seeds of a particular tree and brewing the grounds in hot water would produce something like coffee? Why do Prius owners all seem to be such horrible drivers? How is a law enforcement officer supposed to recognize a legit serial number on a home-built firearm?
It’s that last one that we’ll talk about here. California Governor Jerry Brown signed AB 857 this week that requires anyone building a firearm to first obtain a serial number from the State. So what I’m wondering, and I’m probably not alone here, is how law enforcement is supposed to recognize a legitimately serialized firearm versus one with a few random characters stamped into it?
Imagine the following situation: You’re a member of the CA-DOJ gun detail. You’re at a shooting range. You look at three people at the bench and they’re all shooting AR-style rifles. One was purchased from a gun store as a complete rifle. One was purchased as separate upper and lower receivers and then assembled into a complete rifle. The third was home built from an “80%” lower receiver and then assembled to a purchased upper receiver. So riddle me this, Batman, how can you tell at a glance which is which?
Now let’s say that, somehow, you can tell at a glance which is which. You’ve magically identified the 80% lower. You look at it and it’s serialized. Unless the number is “12345”, how do you know that it’s actually a Callee-for-nai-aye issued number?
Of course, the answer is that you can’t; anymore than you could actually tell, at a glance, that this rifle was store-bought and that one was homemade. You could check the State’s database, but what’s your probable cause for doing so?
So the real mystery is: What’s the point of this law?