Federal Judge Rules California Ammo Background Check Law Unconstitutional

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has not indicated whether he intends to appeal the ruling. (Photo: Becerra Facebook)

Update (4/26): Less than 48 hours after a federal judge ruled that California’s ammunition background check requirement is unconstitutional, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals paused the ruling and re-instituted the requirement. California residents must once again pass a background check before purchasing ammunition and can no longer order ammunition online.


A federal judge in California has granted a motion for preliminary injunction against the state’s requirement that all ammunition purchasers undergo a background check.

In a scathing 120-page decision, U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez in San Diego found that the law is “constitutionally defective” because it has “gravely injured” the Second Amendment rights of California citizens.

“The experiment has been tried. The casualties have been counted. California’s new ammunition background check law misfires and the Second Amendment rights of California citizens have been gravely injured,” Benitez wrote.

The judge’s decision allows California residents to purchase ammunition without completing a background check, which opens the door for out-of-state online purchases as well.

The suit was brought by the California Rifle and Pistol Association along with three-time Olympic gold medalist Kim Rhode.

SEE ALSO: Assemblywoman: ‘You can’t get the semiautomatic ammunition in California’

As GunsAmerica reported in December, typographical and other errors in the background check system resulted in wrongful denials of nearly 20 percent of eligible ammunition purchasers.

“The law’s red tape and state database errors made it impossible for hundreds of thousands of law-abiding Californians to purchase ammunition for sport or self-defense,” said Chuck Michel, the association’s general counsel. “The court found that the flimsy reasons offered by the government to justify these constitutional infringements were inadequate.”

“Californians can sleep a little easier tonight knowing their Constitutional rights were restored and strengthened by this decision,” he said.

Benitez noted that the law fails to adhere to constitutional protections on four separate counts:

First, criminals, tyrants, and terrorists don’t do background checks. The background check experiment defies common sense while unduly and severely burdening the Second Amendment rights of every responsible, gun-owning citizen desiring to lawfully buy ammunition. Second, the implementing regulations systematically prohibit or deter an untold number of law-abiding California citizen-residents from undergoing the required background checks. Third, in the seven months since implementation, the standard background check rejected citizen-residents who are not prohibited persons approximately 16.4 % of the time. Fourth, the ammunition anti-importation laws directly violate the federal dormant Commerce Clause.

Benitez is the same judge who temporarily blocked California’s “high capacity” magazine ban in 2017. The decision prompted a tsunami of standard capacity magazines to be shipped to the state before Benitez blocked the sales to allow the state to appeal his ruling.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has not indicated whether he intends to appeal, but anti-gun groups expect him to do so.

SEE ALSO: California Ammo Fail: 20 Percent of Eligible Purchasers Denied Due to Database Errors

“This decision is patently wrong and we expect that it will be reversed on appeal,” said Brady President Kris Brown in a written statement. “While this injunction is a disappointment, Brady remains dedicated to ensuring the safety of Californians. We are heartened that the judicial process will continue and optimistic that the judge’s error will be corrected on appeal.”

Brown argues that Benitez’s decision acts against the “basic principles of democracy” because the background check law was approved by California voters in a 2016 referendum.

In his decision, Benitez anticipates and counters this objection, arguing that even a majority of citizens cannot supersede constitutional rights.

“Law-abiding citizens are imbued with the unalienable right to keep and bear firearms along with the ammunition to make their firearms work,” he wrote. “That a majority today may wish it were otherwise, does not change the Constitutional right. It never has.” 

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About the author: Jordan Michaels has been reviewing firearm-related products for over six years and enjoying them for much longer. With family in Canada, he’s seen first hand how quickly the right to self-defense can be stripped from law-abiding citizens. He escaped that statist paradise at a young age, married a sixth-generation Texan, and currently lives in Tyler. Got a hot tip? Send him an email at jordan@gunsamerica.com.

{ 28 comments… add one }
  • Deplorable Robert March 28, 2022, 1:54 pm

    That’s why I reload my own ammo.

    I will never purchase my ammo or another firearm from walmart again.

    I try never to buy ANYTHING at Walmart.
    Get your ammo from Bass Pro Shops if you must buy it. Disclaimer: I have no affiliation with either Bass Pro or walmart.

  • Stevestewart October 18, 2021, 3:25 pm

    Walmart is a company of people who are blatantly showing cowardice to their customers choosing not to sell pistol and some rifle ammunition!,look at Europe in the 1930s and 1940s!!

  • Ken February 19, 2021, 5:46 pm

    Every dedicated 2A person should make it a priority to convert at least one leftie to the gun side.

    Invite a friend or neighbor to the range. Help them sign up for a gun safety course. Get them into shooting!

  • ken February 19, 2021, 5:23 pm

    Doesn’t California border on Oregon, Nevada and Arizona?

    I know it can be a long drive for some Angelinos, but …..

  • chinchbug May 2, 2020, 1:21 am

    This is what happens when you start electing foreigners to American political positions.
    Barack Hussein Ubama, call your office.

    • Deplorable Robert March 28, 2022, 1:52 pm

      That’s why I relied my own ammo.

      I will never purchase my ammo or another firearm from walmart again.

      I try never to buy ANYTHING at Walmart.
      Get your ammo from Bass Pro Shops if you must buy it. Disclaimer: I have no affiliation with either Bass Pro or walmart.

      • Deplorable Robert March 28, 2022, 1:53 pm

        RELOAD *

  • Swampdonkey May 1, 2020, 11:41 pm

    Today one thing is legal in CA, tomorrow it’s not. Other states are following California’s lead. The rules keep changing faster than many folks can keep up with. At some point, you just say fk it and do what you gotta do regardless of what the overlords demand.

  • Patrick McWilliams May 1, 2020, 4:30 pm

    Why are some judicial rulings effective immediately, while others, such as this are merely symbolic? The Constitution was violated the day this measure was passed or voted into being.

  • Maha May 1, 2020, 12:43 pm

    How can a Federal judge rule this unconstitutional, and the always-overturned-9th put it back in place?

  • Michael J May 1, 2020, 11:31 am

    The AG follows the lower courts decisions only when it’s a favorable outcome for them. Why don’t politicians and bureaucrats accept the lower courts decision when they lose? I believe it’s a failsafe INCASE they do lose. They could just accept the ruling, but they never do. They are counting on the plaintiffs to give up and some might. AGs have unlimited resources to fight at every judicial level. Essentially they are willing to come against the people’s will and use taxpayer dollars as an insult to injury. The ninth circuit court doesn’t have a great track record when it comes to guns or the 2nd Amendment, Becerra and his vipers have a stacked deck. Hope for the best, plan for the worst.

    • FN509 October 23, 2020, 5:57 am

      At what point do we the people say enough is enough! Our constitutional rights will not be infringed upon anymore! No one is above the constitution, it is the law of the land, above all man! Under God!

      • Dick March 25, 2022, 10:42 am

        Get your guns and ammo however you can. It is going to get a lot worse before it even contemplates getting better. Try to buy unpaired guns from private parties so in a worst case, you can use it and lose and not have it traced back to you. I have 2 gun safes full of semi automatic military style weapons, like my 5-IMI GALILS, 2-FN FAL’s, 2-SIG 556 Classic Swats, 4 different AR15, 3-M1A’s, 2-DSA FAL’s, 2-CZ Bren 2Ms, 7 Arsenal AK’s in both 5.56 nato and 5.45 com bloc. I also have at least 12 high capacity magazines for every weapon. There’s more but I can outfit 36 patriots with semi auto military rifles, battle rifles and sniper rifles. I am ready for the Jeffersonian party where we will give the traitors in Congress the Mussolini swing dance.

        • Deplorable Robert March 28, 2022, 2:03 pm

          Shouldn’t announce how many or what type of weapons you have on a public forum. It is not a smart idea is all I’m saying. Keep em in the dark

  • john a weber May 1, 2020, 7:49 am

    the injunction stopped it the next day

  • Steven Mace May 1, 2020, 2:45 am

    This has since been reinstated.

  • Andrew N. April 27, 2020, 7:00 pm

    Take notice of the “Stay order”, in place until the State decides if it wants to appeal. There is no reasons given for the stay, as there are no reasons other than “We hate guns and ammo in civilian hands”. It really makes you wonder ( like there was any doubt ) how corrupt the Courts are. These Libtard Judges keep trying to LEGISLATE laws instead of INTERPRETING LAWS, WHICH IS THEIR ACTUAL FUNCTION. Congress legislates, judges are supposed to ensure laws are Constitutional. Period. They are not there to legislate. This is why the Libtards HATE Judges like the ones PRESIDENT Trump appoints, they are Originalists, following the Constitution as written by the Founders, as well as any Amendments to the Constitution that haven’t been repealed. The Founding Fathers were not only smart, but at times, they almost seem like they were psychic as well. Some of what is written is more pertinent today, than in 1787 when it was penned. We have all the proof of Gov’t overreach with the Covid-19 pandemic. Some Governors have taken away Rights guaranteed us. Can you imagine what would happen if we weren’t capable of defending those Rights? Food for thought. Vote accordingly. If you like feces on the sidewalk and discarded syringes in the streets, and no way to defend yourself against rampant crime and tyranny, by all means vote Dimocrat. If you have a problem with those things, vote Republican.

    • Shan April 28, 2020, 7:31 pm

      Very well said. Or written. Thank you sir.

    • chumley ortega May 2, 2020, 1:26 am

      The Founders had a tight grasp on the nature of humanity– it was then as it is now, as it has always been and always will be. Libtards think they can socially-engineer corruption out of human nature, and will use any degree of political corruption to further their doomed experiment.

  • Walleye April 27, 2020, 1:20 pm

    If this rediculous law is upheld as lawful, then what product can the state of California not limit the sale of? Alchoholic beverages? Cigarettes? Gasoline? Cheetos? Soda? Medical prescriptions? The list in endless.

  • Lee Wilde April 27, 2020, 11:54 am

    Finally someone does understand the Constitution and upholds this great Document. Thank you Judge Benitez.

  • Kole April 27, 2020, 11:04 am

    Ya but one of the ass hole 9th circuit judge’s that illegally over turned the benitas decision is trump appointed and another is Obama. Trump hasn’t saved the 2A yet, and I don’t think he’ll even try.

  • Mike C April 27, 2020, 7:30 am

    Commonsense in California…maybe I can visit the state once more. It’s a beautiful state, but our politics were so misaligned, I never wanted to go back. There may be hope.

  • Tom Smith April 27, 2020, 7:16 am

    U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez. Guess who appointed this judge to the bench. George Bush The Younger. You can track cases during Trump’s presidency and nearly to a one, the outcome depends merely on who appointed the sitting judge. Clinton and Obama appointees ignore the constitution or find some new meaning from it. Bush I, Bush II, and Trump appointees always seem to be able to read and understand the Constitution as written.

  • Et April 27, 2020, 6:05 am

    I wonder who the tyrants are he’s referring to in his letter. Is he referring to political “leaders”? If so, this is probably why the tyrant Becerra and others quickly rescinded Benitez’s decision. Sadly, like the “assault” weapons ban and standard capacity magazine ban, it seems that the ammo background check law will remain tied up in the courts. This is probably one of many strategies of the anti-gun elites.

  • Bobs your uncle April 25, 2020, 3:54 pm

    And then it was gone

    • Johnny April 27, 2020, 12:44 pm

      Only a Californian (like myself…yes, you may take pity on me) can say that it was absolutely awesome to live in the free world again…for the entire ~42hrs! Actually, probably closer to 24-30hrs technically able to buy.

      And of course we get to buy ammo online like the rest of America again, aside from the whole for only 24hrs part…right in the middle of a global pandemic that caused a shortage in the first place! lol Sorry but, if I don’t laugh I’ll fall back in to depression.

  • Michael Grzincic April 25, 2020, 1:45 pm

    About time a Judge upholds our constitutional rights

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