By Sharon Bernstein
SACRAMENTO, California (Reuters) - Gunmaker Smith & Wesson will decline to sell new versions of some of its semi-automatic pistols in California rather than comply with new safety requirements that kick in when the weapons are substantially upgraded or modified, the company said on Thursday.
A California law passed seven years ago and put into effect last May requires gun manufacturers to submit for testing all semi-automatic handguns that have been substantially changed since they were previously on the market in the most populous U.S. state.
Each pistol must also be stamped with microscopic characters that identify its make, model, and serial number - a step Massachusetts-based Smith & Wesson said it will not take. The law does not apply to guns sold for military or law enforcement use.
Starting next August, updated models of several semi-automatic pistols in Smith & Wesson's M&P line will not be sold to civilians in the state, the company said, although two new pistols in the line, the M&P Shield and the SDVE, will remain available. Revolvers are not affected by the law, the company said.
Elizabeth Sharp, vice president for investor relations at Smith & Wesson, said in an email to Reuters that other firearms makers were also expected to allow products covered under the law to fade out of the market in California as they are upgraded or modified.
Sharp would not release any figures indicating how popular the affected pistols are, or how many are in circulation.
Smith & Wesson president James Dobney said the microstamping requirement, signed by then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2007, was "poorly conceived."
Microstamping a gun, meant to make it easier for law enforcement investigators to track down shooters in criminal cases, was unproven and unreliable "and makes it impossible for Californians to have access to the best products with the latest innovations," Dobney said.
Gun rights organizations including the National Rifle Association oppose the law, and the firearms industry trade group, the National Shooting Sports Foundation, is suing to have it overturned.
California has some of the toughest gun control laws in the nation. Last year, the state passed legislation aimed at furthering tightening its firearm regulations, including a ban on so-called conversion kits used to change standard firearms into semi-automatics capable of firing more than 10 rounds of ammunition without reloading.
(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Cynthia Johnston, Bernard Orr)