Thousands of gun owners statewide now find themselves on the wrong side of the law, despite their good-faith efforts to comply with a new state law.
As of July 1st, it's a felony to possess an unregistered assault-style, semi-automatic weapon in California.
That's why gun owners, like Ron Whitaker of La Mesa, tried to register those weapons online with the California Department of Justice (CAL DOJ) before last week's deadline but couldn't because of an apparent problem with their website.
Whitaker spent $4000 for his LWRC AR-15 assault rifle. He first tried to register it on Thursday, June 28, more than two days before the deadline which was June 30 at midnight.
“I typed the information in a hundred times,” Whitaker recalled. “The website kept crashing. The (state) Department of Justice knew this, and they weren’t doing anything about it.”
Whitaker said he tried again Saturday, June 30. He said he spent 12 hours at his computer that day and night, trying to register his AR-15. He recorded video and took still photos of his computer screen, to document the problems with the CAL DOJ website.
Whitaker said he called a DOJ hotline for help, but the operator told him to “just keep trying.” He also said the state employee blamed him for waiting too long to register, a criticism he strongly rejects.
“Tax deadline is April 15. I don’t file my taxes early, and this is no different,” he told NBC 7 Investigates. “I had until the 30th (of June) to do it, at midnight. Their website should have worked, and it didn’t.”
An angry and frustrated Whitaker finally gave up as the deadline approached.
"I was screaming,” he recalled. “I was talking to God. Yeah, it's extremely frustrating."
Sean Brady, attorney for the California Rifle and Pistol Association, said his membership is hoping for a solution, and wants to work with CAL DOJ for a possible amnesty and registration extension for Whitaker and other assault weapon owners.
Brady said the gun owners group has 30,000 members in California. He estimates that “thousands” of assault weapon owners tried without success to register their weapons before the deadline.
CAL DOJ has not responded to questions about the problems with its website, and there’s no indication that the agency will grant any sort of amnesty to gun owners who tried to register their weapons.
Brady, the gun owners’ association attorney, said weapons owners will not be cited if they disassemble their assault-style weapons and don’t use them anywhere in California.