View Full Version : Convert a DA revolver to SA-only = legal to import?

11-21-2008, 9:39 PM
I'm sure the answer is "no," but just in case: let's say there's a doulbe-action revolver not on the safe handgun list. If you purchase it from out of state and the seller removes key parts, rendering it single-action only, does it then become legal? (Assuming it's dimensions satisfy any constraints on single action revolvers.)

I'm positive the answer is no, but I'd feel stupid if I found out many years later that it was "yes." I'm only asking since it's vaguely similar to removing "evil features" from a semi- rifle before importing into CA.


11-21-2008, 9:58 PM
Effective January 1, 2001, no handgun may be manufactured within California, imported into California for sale, lent, given, kept for sale, or offered/exposed for sale unless that handgun model has passed firing, safety, and drop tests and is certified for sale in California by the Department of Justice. Private party transfers, curio/relic handguns, certain single-action revolvers, and pawn/consignment returns are exempt from this requirement.

you'll have to find out what is the definition of certain.....

wow, that makes me sound like Bill Clinton...."define the word is"

11-21-2008, 10:16 PM
you'll have to find out what is the definition of certain.....

wow, that makes me sound like Bill Clinton...."define the word is"

"Certain" means that it meets the length requirements.

For a revolver, I believe it needs to have a 6.5" or longer barrel, and an minimum overall length of 10"... I think..

Calling BillW...

11-21-2008, 10:16 PM
"We don't need no stinkin' 'define'. We gots bad-jas."

Or something like that.

I'd not be surprised if 'certain' killed that charade off. It'd be too easy otherwise.

you'll have to find out what is the definition of certain.....

wow, that makes me sound like Bill Clinton...."define the word is"

11-21-2008, 10:23 PM
Thanks for the very thorough answer!

Am I reading you correctly that whatever you did to convert from DA->SA would have to be something that was clearly permanent? I.e., it's not just a simple matter of the seller removing a few parts that you could later replace?

However, if this isn't a well-trodden path of other people trying it out and not getting charged, I'll probably not do it. I'm mostly just curious.

This has been discussed many times. The answer seems to be: As long as it meets the requirements of the single-action exemption (minimum length, number of shots), yes. That assumes that the conversion to SA leaves the revolver fully functional; you can't import a non-working bag of parts, which can only be sensibly be put together as a DA revolver.

It would become more sensible if the same model has been manufactured as a DA and SA revolver. Supposedly, there are some S&W K-38 revolvers which were available from the factory as SA models; in those cases it would be easily defensible to turn the DA model into the SA model, import it, then re-convert it.

Clearly, this requires the cooperation from a willing and well-informed gunsmith, who can perform the conversion outside of CA. When I was considering this a few years ago, that was difficult to organize. Today, this is probably less of an issue, with companies like CWS willing to step into situations like this.

To my knowledge, nobody has attempted this yet. Bwiese may have more knowledge - this was heavily discussed about 2 years ago, together with using the single-action exemption to import semi-auto pistols which have been temporarily converted to single shots.

In reality, this is all about keeping a low profile, and setting up enough legal roadblocks so even if you get caught and charged, you can defend yourself successfully.

A few years ago, I considered using this technique to import a Korth revolver into CA. The roadblock back than was that Korth's US importer refused to sell me a revolver that had been converted to SA solely to circumvent California law, in a reversible fasshion. I would have had the conversion done permanently at the Korth factory in Germany, which made the whole process unworkably expensive and complex. Also, it's kind of silly to drop upward of $10K on a revolver, which shoots no better than a good S&W or Python, and which you can't get maintenance or parts for.

Furthermore, there are much easier ways to import off-roster handguns into California. Someone who is a resident of another state can purchase the gun, then move to CA, then sell it to a local resident. Or a LEO can buy it completely bypassing the roster, then resell it. Or one can do a parent/child transfer from another state (or from outside the US), if necessary followed by reselling it within CA. With enough patience and money, nearly any off-roster handgun (excepting things that are strictly AWs by California law) can be found here.

11-21-2008, 10:25 PM
See PC 12133. (a): At least 5-shot capacity, barrel length at least 3 inches, overall length at least 7 1/2 inches. And I'm ignoring irrelevant cases such as C&R and single-shot (Thompson), which are not being discussed here.

Ah, thanks. Knew someone would have it :D

I must be thinking of pistol requirements, then.

11-21-2008, 10:43 PM
But if it wasn't clearly permanent it'd be much harder to defend, right? In any case, I'm souring on the idea.

I know this has been well trodden as well but: is there any hope of getting the safe handgun certification process amended so that people other than the manufacturer could provide the guns and money to get pistols certified? (Would this require a legislative vote, or are there other avenues?)

The law doesn't say a thing about permanence.

At some level, it is not illegal to take any handgun and turn it into any other handgun (let's ignore transitions between rifles and handguns, full-auto and other NFA items, and AW territory). If a buy a single-shot gun like a Thompson, I can then start my milling machine and lathe, and turn it into a DA revolver, or a semi-auto pistol, and there is nothing the law can do about it. By the same token, I can buy a pistol in one caliber, and convert it to another caliber (that's where the .50AE Desert Eagle comes from, or the 10mm version of the Sig 220ST).

On the other hand, if the mechanism of a DA revolver or semi-auto pistol is slightly jammed, and all it needed was a few drops of oil to cycle again, it would be legally suicidal to import it as a single-shot or SA gun.

In the end, a case like this would come down to (a) being caught, and (b) playing a game of resource and roulette with the DA, judge, and jury. Given that this has been discussed openly and the DoJ knows we're thinking about it, and given that it is pretty trivial for the DoJ to find such cases (a search for of all handguns DROS transactions would suffice), the risk of having to fight this one legally is high.

Good attitude. The other ways (discussed above) of obtaining such a pistol seem at this point to be much more cost-efficient.

BillW might have more information to add, if people have quietly been blazing this path already.

11-21-2008, 11:42 PM
My respects to our friend Chainsaw - he's covered the ground nicely.

Firstly, I believe I am the first importer-into-CA of a S&W single-action revolver, the S&W Model 14-3 using the 12133PC single-action exemption. [As contrasted other exemptions to Roster: LEO status, inheritance/probate, PPT, someone moving in with one, etc.] This Model 14-3 was born as a *factory* single-action revolver, with the box labelled as such. (It's a thing of beauty and a wonderful action, I need to post a pic.)

I posted this awhile back (June-ish of 2008) and was hoping DOJ would try to mess with me on this.

Removing the DA sear from a standard S&W revolver renders it into SA status: after this act, it takes two separate operations to cock, then fire the gun. The DA sear (appears to be S&W term) is also called the 'self-cocking strut': removal of this item disallows the core essence of double-action status, self-cocking. It appears this (nor any other manners of SA conversions) are possible on Colt or Ruger DA wheelgun designs.

Note that terms 'double action' and 'single action' are not legally defined, so industry practice & expert opinion are what would apply: single-action requires separate human manipulation of the hammer (cocking) & trigger (firing). Here we have a factory exemplar, the Model 14-3 that was termed as a single-action by the factory as our exemplar. And the brother Model 14 double action is essentially a K38 Masterpiece, whose action/design carries thru to of all S&W wheelguns even today. The sear removal mod to a S&W wheelgun would thus be equivalent to rendering it a la a Model 14-3. The fact that a Model 14-3 SA exists, and the fact the part is intentionally removed to approximate Model 14-3 SA status, indicates this is not a defective revolver.

[There are some slight hammer differences between the 14-3 SA and a sear-removed gun for matters of smoothness.]

That's the technical. Now, for the legal mumbo jumbo:

there are generally no laws against modifying your own handguns, except for no-nos like
unrifled barrels or chambering shotgun shells or being an AW or 'unconventional pistol';

you are free to modify a handgun's bbl length, caliber, change rimfire to/from centerfire,
change single-action to/from double-action, change multi-shot to/from single-shot, etc.

no requirements for permanence of gun's status, or that operating charateristics must be
retained: change characteristics as above at will, as often as desired.

there's no concept of "original design intent" expressed within, or inferrable from, the law;
assertion by DOJ of "original design intent" & related drama is underground regulation
unsupported by law.

the relevant status of the gun is not what the gun looks like but how it operates, at the
time of importation/DROS. What it was, or what it could/will be, is irrelevant.

Rostering status vs. 12133PC exemption to Roster applies only for the gun's sale/transfer, from
the microsecond before DROS until the 10 day wait completion and pickup. The moment it's in
the owner's hot little hands he's free to modify it to any other legal configuration (i.e., a non-AW,
non-'unconventional pistol', etc.)

Roster-exempt single-actions must hold min 5 rounds, have min. 3" bbl length and min 7.5" overall
length measured parallel to bore. [Thus, snubbys like Model 60s would not be able to exploit the
single-action exemption.]

Handguns imported into CA via single-action/ single-shot exemption should have any appropriate
change to their status rendered outside of CA before it crosses into CA, due to the murkiness of
prefatory text in 12125PC.

The smith removing the DA sear ("self-cocking strut") should, after reassembly of the gun, ensure
that the gun truly cannot cock with a trigger pull and that the gun functions OK in single action
mode (cock, fire, cock, fire, cock, fire.... for full cylinder rotation). The gun must *work* and
not be considered jammed/broken!!

Once a purchaser of a single-action revolver takes his gun home, he is free convert it to any other
legal type of firearm of which he can conceive.

The existence of the revolver in DA state is not proof that the gun entered CA illegally since
it could obviously have been modified outside CA, and then further modified again by owner

If legal quibbling ensued, the burden of proof is on the prosecution to show that the gun was
NOT converted to single-action and not single-action at time of DROS.

The similar single-shot exemption (6" min bbl length, 10.5" min overall length) is currently being
used by Calgunners - in cooperation with excellent out-of-state intermediary FFLs like
Freakshow Mfg, Inc. - to import Roster-exempt single-shot pistols built on off-list AR receivers.
This has already received some DOJ drama that rapidly went away, especially when DOJ agent
"Replacement Iggy" Brent Forgot-His-Name found out that one Calgunner builder of AK pistols
was a gun-savvy lawyer and just gave up (he had been making noises about illegal SBRs).

I will add that someone doing the work outside CA should be damned good at not mucking up a nice gun and have nice screwdrivers. S&W sideplate edges are easy to damage, too.

BTW, I was going to do this to acquire one of the new 8-shot 627s (i.e with traditional barrel not the 'wedge spacegun barrel' but alas, S&W actually Rostered the 627-8 with 4" bbl.

BTW#2: (to Moulton): the 'certain' in 'certain single-action revolvers' just means ones that are 5+ round and which are dimensionally compliant w/min 3+" bbl length & min 7.5" overall length.

11-21-2008, 11:54 PM
I'm glad this question was asked, as I've always wanted an M47 Medusa. Now I just need to find the revolver, a smith to convert it to SA, an FFL willing to DROS it and the money involved to make it so!

E Pluribus Unum
11-21-2008, 11:57 PM
This has been discussed many times.

How would you know? With less than 20 posts, you couldn't have been around long... unless of course you have multiple accounts.

11-22-2008, 12:15 AM
How would you know? With less than 20 posts, you couldn't have been around long... unless of course you have multiple accounts.

There's alligators and then there's rabbits.

Some people are quiet and just read a lot. Chainsaw's a good guy.

11-22-2008, 1:27 AM
I posted this awhile back (June-ish of 2008) and was hoping DOJ would try to mess with me on this.

So much good information in your post I missed this line. Sounds like you know what you are doing, but I do hope everything goes according to plan.

Good luck.