Illegal In L.A.: Chuck Michel On The Magazine Ban

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posted on November 24, 2015
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We’ve covered the ordinance banning the possession of so-called “high-capacity” magazines in Los Angeles, but the details may be confusing to gun owners. The law is currently being challenged in court, but in the meantime it is considered illegal to own magazines holding more than ten rounds within city limits. We asked attorney Chuck Michel, California firearms expert and owner of Michel & Associates, to explain the current legal situation for our readers.

A1F Daily Staff: Could you give us a brief rundown of your role in the lawsuit against the city of Los Angeles for its ordinance banning “high-capacity” magazines?   

Photo provided by Chuck Michel.

Chuck Michel: In this suit, our office is representing six individuals who live in or around Los Angeles and the California Rifle and Pistol Association (CRPA), including their tens of thousands of members who either reside in or travel through the city. We are also representing a majority of California sheriffs—30, to be exact—as well as the California Reserve Peace Officers Association and the Law Enforcement Alliance of America. These law enforcement officials and groups asked to join the suit to protect not only their own rights, but also the rights of residents in their jurisdictions who travel through Los Angeles. For example, California sheriffs often issue CCW permits that specifically authorize individuals to carry handguns that have magazines over 10 rounds. Under the ordinance, these individuals would be subject to criminal arrest and prosecution every time they pass through Los Angeles, even though they are carrying pursuant to a license that is supposed to be valid anywhere in the state.    

A1F: On what grounds are you seeking to have the ordinance struck down? 

CM: We are challenging the ordinance on state pre-emption grounds. In California, local laws are pre-empted if they duplicate or contradict state law, or if they regulate in a field that has been fully occupied by state law. In 2000, California banned the manufacture, importation, sale and transfer of magazines over 10 rounds, but it intentionally “grandfathered” in the possession of magazines that were lawfully acquired prior to 2000. The city’s ban also conflicts with numerous state statutes that expressly allow for their possession in a number of circumstances, and several state law licenses that authorize both law enforcement and civilians to carry firearms with magazines over 10 rounds.We look forward to fully briefing the pre-emption arguments for the court, and we expect to have a ruling on whether the ordinance is pre-empted by mid-2016.    

A1F: Not long ago, a Superior Court judge denied “injunctive relief,” meaning that gun owners are required to comply with the new law while the case plays out. What should gun owners know about this ruling? Will it have any impact on how the court ultimately decides the case, and what are your reactions?   

CM: That’s correct, the law took effect on November 19, so gun owners should be aware of their rights and responsibilities to protect themselves from becoming accidental victims of the new law. As a resource for gun owners, our office put together a comprehensive Compliance Guide on behalf of NRA and CRPA that discusses the details of the ordinance and how to comply without inadvertently violating either the ordinance or state laws and regulations. That guide is available for free on the CRPA’s website, here

It’s important for gun owners to know that preliminary requests like this are rarely granted unless there is a high level of “irreparable harm” that will result when the law takes effect. Here, the court didn’t believe there was irreparable harm because residents can store their magazines outside the city, and because people passing through the city can still carry firearms with magazines under 10 rounds. It’s important for gun owners to understand that the denial of the preliminary injunction request will not impact how the case is ultimately decided. Although courts sometimes deny these requests because they find that the plaintiffs are not likely to ultimately prevail in the case, that didn’t happen here. In fact, the court expressly stated that it was making no findings on how the case will ultimately be decided. We look forward to fully briefing the pre-emption arguments for the court, and we expect to have a ruling on whether the ordinance is pre-empted by mid-2016.

A1F: Do you have any advice for gun owners on how to comply with the law until it is struck down—for instance, is it feasible to keep their magazines outside Los Angeles until this blows over? 

CM: The ordinance provided a 60-day grace period to comply with the new law that ended on November 19, 2015. Under the law, Los Angeles residents had the option of either removing their magazines from city limits and storing them outside the city, surrendering them to the Los Angeles Police Department for destruction, transferring them in accordance with state law or permanently altering them to only accept 10 rounds or less. Not surprisingly, the LAPD recently told the Los Angeles Times that not a single magazine was turned in to law enforcement before the grace period expired. If any individuals residing in Los Angeles missed the cutoff date, they should contact an attorney experienced in firearms law immediately to avoid inadvertently subjecting themselves to prosecution.  

A1F: Is there anything that gun owners may not know about what they need to do to comply with the law right now?​ 

CM: I highly recommend that gun owners review the complimentary Compliance Guide to fully understand their rights and responsibilities under the ordinance. Again, the guide can be viewed for free on the CRPA website, here. The guide also provides useful information for gun owners about how to properly exercise their rights during encounters with law enforcement who don’t always know the ins and outs of California’s confusing web of firearm laws.

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