California Gun Owners Win Again in Court

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posted on October 3, 2023
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In a major victory for California gun owners, a district court judge has struck down—for the second time—the state’s law banning firearm magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition.

On Sept. 22, District Judge Roger Benitez, a President George W. Bush (R) appointee, ruled in the case Duncan v. Bonta that the law is unconstitutional as it violates the Second Amendment rights of the plaintiffs.

Before we go further, a little history is in order. In an example of how the American justice system moves at a snail’s pace, California anti-Second Amendment politicians passed the law back in 2016. It was immediately challenged in court. In 2017, Judge Benitez ruled the law to be unconstitutional.

“If this injunction does not issue, hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of otherwise law-abiding citizens will have an untenable choice: become an outlaw or dispossess one’s self of lawfully acquired property,” Benitez wrote in his 66-page order in 2017.

Of course, the matter didn’t end there. The state appealed the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, where a three-judge panel upheld the district court’s decision; however, the case was later heard by an en banc panel of judges in the Ninth Circuit, which overturned Benitez’s earlier ruling by a 7-to-4 vote.

At the time, Judge Susan Graber, a President Bill Clinton (D) appointee, wrote for the majority: “The ban on legal possession of large-capacity magazines reasonably supports California’s effort to reduce the devastating damage wrought by mass shootings. Nothing in the record suggests that the restriction imposes any more than a minimal burden on the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.”

Upon appeal, the case went to the U.S. Supreme Court, where it sat dormant until last year’s landmark decision in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen. At that point, the Supreme Court vacated the Ninth Circuit ruling and remanded it back to the district court for reconsideration.

That brings us to last week’s decision once again striking down the ban. In his opinion explaining the ruling, Judge Benitez made several important points concerning the now 7-year-old magazine-limit law, including explaining some of the history and purpose of such magazines, along with detailing how common they are today.

“The detachable firearm magazine solved a problem with historic firearms: Running out of ammunition and having to slowly reload a gun,” wrote Benitez. “When more ammunition is needed in case of confrontation, a larger magazine is required. Many gun owners want to have ready more than 10 rounds in their guns. As a result, in the realm of firearms, magazines that hold more than 10 rounds are possibly the most commonly owned thing in America.”

As Benitez further explained, by restricting magazines over 10 rounds, California puts lawful gun owners at unnecessary risk.

“The State denies a citizen the federal constitutional right to use common weapons of their own choosing for self-defense,” wrote Benitez. “There have been, and there will be, times where many more than 10 rounds are needed to stop attackers. Yet, under this statute, the State says, ‘too bad.’

“It says, if you think you need more than 10 chances to defend yourself against criminal attackers, you must carry more magazines. Or carry more bullets to hand reload and fumble into your small magazine while the attackers take advantage of your pause. On the other hand, you can become a criminal, too.”

Following the ruling, California Attorney General Rob Bonta (D) filed an appeal, which will again send the case back to the Ninth Circuit Court. But this result could be different.

In last year’s Bruen ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court prescribed a new standard for deciding firearms cases. Under that standard, courts must ask whether the “Second Amendment’s plain text covers an individual’s conduct?” If the answer is yes, courts next ask whether there exists a “historical precedent from before, during and even after the founding [that] evidences a comparable tradition of regulation?”

When strictly adhered to by the courts, the Bruen standard has made it much more difficult for anti-Second Amendment state governments to defend their unconstitutional firearm laws in court. Consequently, states like California have recently found themselves losing more than winning in the courtroom.

Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) even lamented that fact publicly on Sept. 26 when signing even more arguably unconstitutional gun-related bills, including an additional 11% tax on guns and ammunition.

“It may mean nothing if the federal courts are throwing them out,” Newsom said of the new laws. “We feel very strongly that these bills meet the (new standard), and they were drafted accordingly. But I’m not naïve about the recklessness of the federal courts and the ideological agenda.”

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