April 24, 2020
By J. Scott Rupp
UPDATE 4/25/2020: NSSF reports the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit has issued an administrative stay that halts the preliminary injunction against enforcing California's ammo background laws. The stay was in response to an emergency motion filed by state's attorney general. Ammo background checks are once again required in California.
ORIGINAL: Yesterday U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez ruled the California’s background checks and other restrictions on buying ammunition unconstitutionally infringe on residents’ Second Amendment rights. Benitez’s preliminary injunction prevents the law from being enforced pending the resolution of a lawsuit filed by the California Rifle & Pistol Association and several co-plaintiffs—including lead plaintiff Olympic gold medalist shotgun athlete Kim Rhode.
Proposition 63, a ballot measure passed by state’s voters, and a state senate bill banned direct shipments of ammunition to citizens (which went into effect July 2018) and required background checks for all ammunition purchases (which went into effect July 2019). The measures also prohibited California residents from bringing in ammunition from other states, a prohibition that also applied to nonresidents traveling to the state for shooting competitions and other activities.
“The experiment has been tried. The casualties have been counted. California new ammunition background check law misfires and the Second Amendment rights of California citizens have been gravely injured,” Benitez wrote at the beginning of his ruling, which spanned 120 pages.
“These new laws are constitutionally defective for several reasons,” Benitez wrote. “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….”
“No doubt, to prevent gun crime by preventing felons and other prohibited persons from acquiring ammunition is a laudable goal,” Benitez wrote. “But there is little evidence that pre-purchase ammunition checking will accomplish the goal and the burden it places on the Constitutional rights of law-abiding firearm owners is profound. Furthermore, compared to the discouraging effect on criminals, the laws have a severely disproportionate effect on law-abiding citizen-residents.”
When California’s ammunition background system went into effect last year, the state’s processes to institute the checks “failed miserably,” according to CRPA—denying many Californians the ability to purchase ammunition for their legally owned firearms.
“This is a devastating blow to the anti-gun-owner advocates who falsely pushed Prop 63 in the name of safety. In truth, red tape and the state’s disastrous database errors made it impossible for hundreds of thousands of law-abiding Californians to purchase ammunition for sport or self-defense.” said Chuck Michel, CRPA’s president and general counsel. “The Court found that the flimsy reasons offered by the government to justify these Constitutional infringements were woefully inadequate.”
This ruling is only an injunction against enforcing the ammunition background checks. The law and proposition still stand. CRPA expects the state to appeal the ruling, but at press time—the morning after the ruling—there had been no word from the state’s attorney general regarding such an appeal.