The man behind the first gun with an integrated biometric lock set to come to market is backing a suit against one of California’s most restrictive gun laws.
Kai Kloepfer, Biofire founder, told The Reload his company wrote an amicus letter supporting plaintiffs in a case against the state’s Unsafe Handgun Act (UHA) because it believes the law holds back firearms safety innovation. That law bans the sale of any handgun that isn’t on the state’s approved roster, which hasn’t seen a new handgun model added to it since 2013. Biofire wrote to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals earlier this month urging them to strike down the law in Boland v. Bonta.
“Our argument is the roster doesn’t serve the needs of Californians because it arbitrarily restricts the options that are available,” Kloepfer told The Reload. “California is to guns as Cuba is to cars. You can’t take advantage of all the advancements in technology, including in safety, that have been made since the guns the roster grandfathered in.”
The company’s involvement in the case is at least a public relations win for the California Rifle and Pistol Association and other plaintiffs in the case. It could also help sway the appeals panel reviewing the case that the law does more harm than good in its stated goal of protecting Californians from unsafe handguns. The move also indicates how Biofire plans to convince gun buyers, who have long been skeptical of “smart gun” technology, it is working in their interests.
Kloepfer said the company, like other gun manufacturers, isn’t planning to become directly involved in general gun-rights legal activism. However, he said they do plan to pursue legal action when a law impacts their business.
“What we do engage in are areas directly involved with smart guns. And, in particular, we have this very strong stance of being against mandates of this technology,” Kloepfer said. “It doesn’t make any sense for the market. It doesn’t make any sense for our customers. It doesn’t make any sense for us. So, areas like Boland as well as, obviously, the now-repealed New Jersey mandate for smart guns and things like that. We do get involved in direct smart gun topics or topics that impact our ability to serve our customers.”
California passed the UHA in 2001. Initially, it barred the sale of any new handgun models without a loaded chamber indicator or magazine disconnect safety. In 2013, the state mandated new pistol models must include so-called microstamping technology. In theory, microstamping imprints an identifiable mark on every spent casing with the goal of helping police solve crimes. But, as Kloepfer pointed out, there has never been a production gun anywhere in the world that incorporates the technology, and critics argue the technology is impossible to implement in a practical firearm.
“Our understanding is that the roster requires microstamping, which has never been implemented in any sort of commercially available firearm,” he said. “Biofire does not have microstamping in it. Similar to every other manufacturer, we have not seen a viable approach there.”
The real-world effect of adding the microstamping requirement, which New York is now considering implementing, was a complete ban on selling any handgun models created after 2013. Outside of law enforcement officers, who are not subject to the handgun roster’s restrictions despite unrostered guns’ status as “unsafe,” Californians have been mostly limited to buying pistols first introduced to the market more than 15 years ago.
Boland v. Bonta is already changing that, though. In March, Federal District Judge Cormac J. Carney issued a preliminary injunction against the UHA because he found it likely unconstitutional.
“These regulations are having a devastating impact on Californians’ ability to acquire and use new, state-of-the-art handguns,” Judge Carney wrote. “Since 2007, when the [loaded chamber indicator] and [magazine disconnect safety] requirements were introduced, very few new handguns have been introduced for sale in California with those features. Since 2013, when the microstamping requirement was introduced, not a single new semiautomatic handgun has been approved for sale in California.”
California filed to appeal the ruling. However, it only requested a stay on Judge Carney’s ruling in regard to the loaded chamber indicator and magazine disconnect safety requirements. The court agreed to that request. That means the microstamping requirement will remain enjoined as the appeal proceeds.
Kloepfer said Biofire has a version of its gun that includes a loaded chamber indicator and magazine disconnect safety. But he argued those features shouldn’t be required either, and the company would continue to support the case against the law.
Biofire has already brought in thousands of pre-orders for its first “smart gun” model and plans to ship the first batch of $1,500-$1,900 firearms by the end of the year.
“We’ve seen really tremendous demand so far,” Kloepfer said.
The gun is only available for direct purchase through Biofire’s website at this point, but Kloepfer said the company hopes to expand in the coming months.
“We just very simply don’t have the inventory capacity to stock at distributors or things like that,” he said. “So, as we get larger and start to sort of fulfill a lot of this backlog of demand, the goal is definitely to build positive relationships with distributors, especially ones that our customers are excited about.”
Oral arguments in the Boland v. Bonta appeal have been scheduled for August 23rd.