Tuesday, February 6, 2024

California Ammunition Restrictions Reinstated by Ninth Circuit Panel


(AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

For a brief window from January 31 to February 5, 2024, Californians enjoyed the same freedom to buy ammunition as the rest of the country, following a ruling by Judge Benitez declaring the state’s ammunition law unconstitutional for the second time. However, this changed on February 5 when a split decision by a Ninth Circuit three-judge panel reinstated the restrictions.

The ammunition background checks laws have no historical pedigree and operate in such a way that they violate the Second Amendment right of citizens to keep and bear arms. The anti-importation components violate the dormant Commerce Clause and to the extent applicable to individuals travelling into California are preempted by 18 U.S.C. § 926A. Perhaps the simpler, 4-year and $50 ammunition purchase permit approved by the voters in Proposition 63, would have fared better.
Accordingly, the Court permanently enjoins the State of California from enforcing the ammunition sales background check provisions found in California Penal Code §§ 30352 and 30370(a) through (e), and the ammunition anti-importation provisions found in §§ 30312(a) and (b) and 30314(a). Criminal enforcement of California Penal Code §§ 30312(d), 30314(c), and 30365(a) by the Attorney General and all other law enforcement defendants is permanently enjoined.

California’s complex journey with ammunition regulation began in 2016 with the approval of Proposition 63 by voters, introducing a permit system for ammunition purchase that was never implemented. Instead, Senate Bill 1235 was passed, mandating background checks for every ammunition purchase among other stringent requirements. This law faced legal challenges for its constitutionality and was temporarily halted by Judge Benitez in 2020 until reconsidered in light of the Supreme Court’s Bruen decision. On January 30, 2024, Benitez issued a permanent injunction against enforcing these restrictions, concluding that they infringed on Second Amendment rights and violated the dormant Commerce Clause. Despite his refusal to stay this injunction, the Ninth Circuit panel’s decision has temporarily put these restrictions back in place.

The ongoing legal battle underscores the contentious debate over ammunition regulations in California, highlighting the tension between state legislation and constitutional rights. The possibility remains that the Ninth Circuit’s stay could be overturned, potentially rolling back the enforcement of Bill 1235 and revisiting the state’s approach to ammunition sales.

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