By Sharon Bernstein
SACRAMENTO, California, July 19 (Reuters) - California has banned the sale of single-shot handguns that can be altered into semi-automatic weapons, handing a modest victory to proponents of tougher gun laws while striving to protect antique collectors.
The new rules were signed into law on Friday by Governor Jerry Brown.
California already has some of the strictest gun control laws in the United States. But proponents fought to amend the state's so-called safe handgun requirements, arguing that it exempted for single-shot pistols which meant dealers were selling thousands of modified weapons per year without a required safety feature that indicates when a bullet is chambered.
"This is a significant step to protect the integrity of the safe handgun law in California," assemblyman Roger Dickinson, a Democrat who authored the bill, told Reuters. "This exception has been increasingly used by those who wish to circumvent (the law)."
The bill comes amid a protracted national debate over the extent of gun restrictions after a series of deadly rampages in schools, movie theaters, and other public places.
The legislation drew swift criticism from the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the California Association of Federal Firearms Licensees (CAL-FFL), groups that say such laws trample constitutional rights.
"Sadly, the status quo for elitist Sacramento politicians is to ignore the Constitution and act with blatant hostility towards our Second Amendment civil rights and sound public policy," said Brandon Combs, president of the CAL-FFL.
The NRA has said the measure would hurt law-abiding citizens by "eliminating the only options for Californians to purchase numerous handguns that are commonly owned throughout the rest of the country."
Under existing California law, semi-automatic weapons must have an indicator showing when there is a bullet in the chamber. But many manufacturers do not include the feature, leading some dealers to convert guns to single-shot weapons before selling them, though they are later reverted back, Dickinson said.
The loophole was created after single-shot weapons were exempted from the safety requirement to protect collectors of antique guns, Dickinson said, adding the new law strives to protect antique single-shot weapons prized by collectors.
The new law ensures handguns must meet other safety measures, such as firing tests, Dickinson said.
It preserves exceptions under specific requirements, such as a single-shot pistol with a break top or bolt action, a barrel length of at least six inches, among other requirements, according to analysis on the state legislature's website.
(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento; Writing by Eric M. Johnson)