9th Circuit Rules CA Law That Bans High Capacity Magazines Runs Afoul Of 2nd Amendment

By T.F. 08.17.20

A federal appeals court on Friday struck down California’s ban on high-capacity magazines — those holding more than 10 bullets — finding that it ‘runs afoul of the Second Amendment’.

“(E)ven well-intentioned laws must pass constitutional muster,” Judge Kenneth K. Lee wrote in the 66-page decision. “California’s near-categorical ban of LCMs (large-capacity magazines) strikes at the core of the Second Amendment — the right to armed self defense.”

The decision noted that the scope of law, penned “in the wake of heart-wrenching and highly publicized mass shootings” was “so sweeping that half of all magazines in America are now unlawful to own in California.”

The opinion stated that the Second Amendment “limits the state’s ability to second guess a citizen’s choice of arms if it imposes a substantial burden on her right to self-defense.”

“Many Californians may find solace in the security of a handgun equipped with an LCM: those who live in rural areas where the local sheriff may be miles away, law-abiding citizens trapped in high-crime areas, communities that distrust or depend less on law enforcement, and many more who rely on their firearms to protect themselves and their families.”

The three-judge panel was divided 2 to 1 in its ruling. Judge Barbara Lynn dissented, finding that the majority opinion conflicted with prior decisions from the courts. She also wrote that California’s law “does not place a substantial burden on core Second Amendment rights because it does not prevent the use of handguns or other weapons in self-defense.”

The Giffords Law Center for the Prevention of Gun Violence notes that large-capacity magazines were used in several of the deadliest mass shootings in modern U.S. history, including the ambush at a Las Vegas concert venue that killed 58 in 2017, an attack in an Orlando nightclub that killed 49 in 2016, and a massacre at a Newtown, Conn., elementary school that killed 20 children and six adults.

Magazines that hold more than 10 bullets have been illegal to sell, manufacture, import or transfer in California since 2000. In 2016, the Legislature passed a bill that would make ownership of the gun parts an infraction.

That same year, California voters passed Proposition 63, a clarifying measure holding that people who owned high-capacity magazines had to get rid of them, regardless of when they first came to possess them. Violations could be an infraction or misdemeanor. The ballot measure also required some people to pass a background check before buying ammunition.

In 2017, the California Rifle and Pistol Association — the state arm of the National Rifle Association — and five San Diego County residents sued in federal court, arguing that the new law infringed on the constitutional right to bear arms. Three of the plaintiffs said they wanted the magazines for self defense, and two others said they should not have to give up magazines they already own.

U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez sided with the plaintiffs and blocked enforcement. California appealed. Friday’s ruling upholds Benitez’s decision.

Chuck Michel, president and General Counsel of the California Rifle & Pistol Association, issued a statement calling Friday’s decision “a major victory for the Second Amendment,” in California and nationally.

“This is a huge win specifically for the right to possess these valuable self-defense tools,” Michel said.

NRA spokeswoman Amy Hunter issued a statement echoing that the ruling was “a huge win” for gun owners across the country, and noting that the judge who wrote the opinion had been appointed by President Donald Trump.

“That means everyone who voted pro-gun in 2016 played a role in this significant win,” Hunter said. “It’s a reminder to everyone: Vote in November. Your rights depend on it.”

Hannah Shearer, litigation director of the Giffords Law Center, issued a statement noting that the decision was the first time an appellate court in the court struck down a ban on the magazines, but it “should put gun safety advocates across the country on high alert.”

“It’s a sign that the NRA-approved judges Trump’s administration has focused on confirming at record rates are hostile to gun violence prevention efforts,” Shearer said. “These judges are gaining potentially irreversible inroads on our appellate courts.”

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s office said it is “carefully reviewing the decision, with the goal of protecting public safety” and noted that for now, the stay issued by the district court barring enforcement remains in place.