Gene Hoffman is standing in the middle of his sunny corner office in Belmont, California, and he’s showing me his AR-15.
If California State Senator Leland Yee had his way, Hoffman could get arrested for this. In 1989, the California legislature passed a law banning semi-automatic rifles like the AR-15 on the basis of a combination of features such as pistol grips and telescoping stocks. But Hoffman and some other gun enthusiasts scrutinized state regulations and found a way around the legal code in 2007 by creating a button that fixes magazines in place. That theoretically renders a rifle legal because its magazine could then not be detached without using a tool, as required by state law. Gun owners could still rapidly reload with this button in place, because all they have to do is poke it with the tip of a bullet to unlock empty magazines. Last year, Yee floated a bill that would add button-equipped guns to a list of banned weapons.
So when I asked Hoffman to explain the device — a controversial add-on called the “bullet button” — he didn’t have to close his office door before pulling the seven-pound Lauer LCW-15, unloaded, from a large rectangular case on the floor. He did anyway — “Just so I don’t alarm anyone,” he said.