Harrott v. County of Kings

In Harrott v. County of Kings (2001) 25 Cal.4th 1138, the California Supreme Court explained that, prior to its amendment in 1999, the Assault Weapons Control Act of 1989, of which section 12280 is a part, did not define assault weapons generically. Instead, only those assault weapons listed specifically by manufacturer, model, or series, or those weapons placed by means of a judicial proceeding initiated by the Attorney General onto an identification guide, were prohibited. (Id. at pp. 1145-1149, citing 12276, 12276.5.) The issue in Harrott was whether the trial court had authority under this clause to conclude that a weapon which was neither explicitly listed in the statute nor had been the subject of a petition by the Attorney General as a prohibited assault weapon, and, thus, added by the Attorney General's Office to the list of such weapons, was a banned assault weapon. (Harrott, supra, 25 Cal.4th at pp. 1143-1144.) The Supreme Court concluded it did not because the legislative history of the legislation predating the 1999 amendments revealed a strong concern that law enforcement always have a current, comprehensive and statewide list of prohibited weapons and there was no provision for the listing of weapons that a superior court had concluded were prohibited under the clause utilized by the trial court. (Id. at pp. 1144, 1147.) Thus, citizens in possession of weapons declared by superior courts to be assault weapons, but not listed anywhere that could be checked by them, could be guilty of violating the assault weapon ban without knowing their weapons were illegal. (Ibid.) Additionally, citizens in a county where the superior court had made such a declaration would be bound by it, but not so citizens in counties where no such declaration had occurred. (Id. at p. 1147.) The Supreme Court pointed out when the AWCA was enacted in 1989, obviously before the 1999 amendments, it would not have been approved by the Legislature had there been generic definitions of assault weapons in it. (Id. at p. 1145.) The court commented, "Recognizing that the perfect can be the enemy of the good, the Legislature compromised between proponents and opponents of generic definitions and enacted an admittedly imperfect bill . . . ." (Id. at p. 1145.) However, the court went on to note, "As a result, anomalous situations could arise. That is, prior to the amendment of the AWCA in 1999, two semiautomatic firearms made by different manufacturers, or two different models made by the same manufacturer, could be virtually identical in appearance, and yet one might be banned while the other is not." (Ibid.)