On Friday, the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against California’s ban against high-capacity ammunition magazines, citing California’s gun law as a Second Amendment violation.
In a 2-1 decision, the San Francisco-based court singled out the state ban on magazines holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition as striking “At the core of the Second Amendment – the right to armed self-defense”.
In the majority statement, Judge Kenneth Lee, writing on behalf of himself and Judge Consuelo Callahan gave the reasons behind their ruling.
“Armed self-defense is a fundamental right rooted in tradition and the text of the Second Amendment,” said the majority ruling. “Even well-intentioned laws must pass constitutional muster. They passed the law in the wake of heart-wrenching and highly publicized mass shootings, but it isn’t enough to justify a law that is so sweeping that half of all magazines in America are now unlawful to own in California.
“Ammunition is typically used for lawful purposes, and are not ‘unusual arms’ that would fall outside the scope of the Second Amendment.”
Judge Barbara Lynn wrote the dissenting opinion, arguing that the ban is in place to restrict how someone uses a weapon instead of owning the weapon itself.
“The difference between using a handgun versus a rifle for self-defense, for example, is much more significant than the difference between using a magazine that holds eleven rounds versus a magazine that holds ten rounds,” Lynn wrote. “For this reason, the prohibition on LCMs (large-capacity magazines) is more analogous to a restriction on how someone exercises their Second Amendment rights, by restricting the number of bullets a person may shoot from one firearm without reloading.”
Judge Lynn also noted that Friday’s ruling went against six other appellate court rulings in the U.S., including a prior ruling by the 9th Circuit Court itself in 2015, and should have fallen to precedent.
California’s high-capacity magazine ban had been law since 2017 following the passage of Proposition 63, but had been brought up in lesser courts, including the Duncan v. Becerra case in 2017 and a District Court ruling in 2019.
Gun control advocates derided Friday’s decision, saying that it will only raise the likelihood that firearms will be used for violence and that communities are now more at risk.
California Governor Gavin Newsom, who was one of the main forces behind Prop 63 in 2016 while serving as Lieutenant Governor under then Governor Jerry Brown, defended the magazine law on Friday.
“I think it was sound, I think it was right, and the overwhelming majority of Californians agreed when they supported a ballot initiative that we put forth,” said Governor Newsom.
State Attorney General Xavier Becerra, another major supporter on the magazine ban, also reacted negatively to court’s decision.
“The Attorney General remains committed to using every tool possible to defend California’s gun safety laws and keep our communities safe,” stated his office after the ruling on Friday. “He is currently reviewing the decision with the goal of protecting public safety.”
At the same time, pro-gun advocates celebrated one of the largest Second Amendment victories in California in recent years.
“You wouldn’t think California of all places would get rid of limits,” expressed firearm safety instructor and second amendment advocate ‘Bud’ Boone in a Globe interview. “But here we are, allowed to have large-capacity magazines again very, very soon.
“Lower capacity magazines, like the 10 and unders we’re stuck with now, really do limit you out there, and there’s all sorts of issues that come with them. Now we’re back to where we were 5 years ago, making hunting, range time, and many other legal activities easier, safer, and better.
I don’t know if this will last, because they always appeal things like this, but for now we have it.”
California Rifle & Pistol Association (CRPA) President Chuck Michel also noted the victory.
“This is a huge win specifically for the right to possess these valuable self-defense tools,” said Michel. “But more generally, this case may present the Supreme Court with an opportunity to set things straight on the underlying issue of what the standard of review test should be when considering any Second Amendment challenge.”
Michel also noted that the decision would likely be overturned.
High-capacity magazines cannot be bought immediately in the state due to a stay being issued in lower courts, but it may be removed soon if the ruling remains unchallenged.
Attorney General Becerra has not yet given an indication if he will appeal, but most legal and firearm experts have said that it is likely. Becerra will be limited to who he can appeal to, either a larger 11 judge appellate panel or the U.S. Supreme Court itself.
A decision by the California Attorney General is expected soon.