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.
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.
“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.”