The Reprieve was Short for California’s Gun Owners

posted on April 27, 2020

Soon after a U.S. District Judge stopped enforcement of California’s ammunition background check system, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals granted a stay. This means the state is once again requiring all ammunition purchases to be done in person and only after the person passes a background check. Mail orders of ammunition are illegal in the state and Californians aren’t permitted to even drive ammo in from other states.  

U.S. District Judge Roger T. Benitez’s detailed, 120-page injunction wasn’t enough to keep a panel of judges on the 9th Circuit from quickly caving to a motion filed by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D).

So the law is again making it hard on California’s law-abiding gun owners. The law uses a California Department of Justice database that tracks legal purchases of guns in order to clear customers who want to purchase ammunition. One problem has been that the information inputted into the system often doesn’t match customers’ identification cards. An investigation by The Sacramento Bee last December determined that about one in five buyers were denied the ability to legally purchase ammunition due to the law; the vast majority of those denied don’t have a criminal record that would prohibit them from purchasing ammunition. Only about .0003% of the purchases denied were due to prohibitive criminal records, according to data from California’s Department of Justice.

In fact, in his injunction, Benitez saw this and noted that the law has been used to “systematically prohibit or deter an untold number of law-abiding California citizen-residents from undergoing the required background checks.”

“If the state objective is to make it extremely difficult, if not impossible, for its law-abiding citizens to purchase protected ammunition, then this law appears to be well-drafted,” Benitez wrote.

The law’s prohibition on mail-order ammunition sales, which was part of State Proposition 63, also makes it difficult for Californians to buy ammunition during this shutdown from the pandemic. 

“Temporarily staying the order for a short time longer will cause no significant harm to plaintiffs, who have been living with the status quo for 10 months (or over two years in the case of the restrictions on importation and direct shipping),” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra wrote in his request to the 9th Circuit to stay the injunction.

Becerra is, of course, only talking about law-abiding Californians. He doesn’t think any “significant harm” will come to any lawful person who is not able to defend themselves until help arrives because of this law. He also doesn’t care that this law infringes on Californians’ Second Amendment rights.

Benitez addressed this when he wrote: “The Attorney General has conceded that the right to purchase and acquire ammunition is a right protected by the Second Amendment. That is an understanding consistent with Ninth Circuit decisions. Furthermore, as discussed in its preliminary injunction order, this Court found Plaintiffs showed a likelihood of success on the merits.”

Despite this, the 9th Circuit stayed Benitez’s ruling from taking effect; it did this faster than it would have taken most people to even read it.


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