Federal Appeals Court Upholds California Ban on Large High-Capacity Ammunition Magazines

By Katabella Roberts
Katabella Roberts
Katabella Roberts
Katabella Roberts is a reporter currently based in Turkey. She covers news and business for The Epoch Times, focusing primarily on the United States.
December 1, 2021 Updated: December 1, 2021

A federal appeals court on Tuesday upheld California’s ban on large-capacity ammunition magazines, reversing a San Diego federal judge’s rule that it was “unconstitutional” and handing a victory to Gov. Gavin Newsom and gun-control advocates.

The California law, which was enacted in 2016, bans the possession of large-capacity magazines (LCMs) that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition. The law also bans the manufacture and imports of LCMs.

Under the law, owners of LCMs can modify them to accept ten rounds or fewer and sell their magazines to firearm dealers or remove them from the state. The law provides several exceptions to the ban on large-capacity magazines, including possession by active or retired law enforcement officers, security guards for armored vehicles, and holders of special weapons permits.

U.S. District Judge Roger T. Benitez in San Diego previously blocked the ban, claiming that the law is illegal because it violates the Second Amendment right of gun owners under the U.S. Constitution.

The state government, through the law, “bans an entire class of very popular hardware—firearms that are lawful under federal law and under the laws of most states and that are commonly held by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes,” Benitez, a George W. Bush appointee, wrote in his 94-page ruling at the time.

A three-judge panel of the Ninth Circuit in August 2020 upheld District Judge Benitez’s original decision.

But an 11-member en banc panel of the Ninth Circuit of Appeals on Tuesday voted 7–4 to issue a ruling (pdf) that reverses that decision on the California law.

The court said it applied a “two-step framework to review the Second Amendment challenge, asking first whether the challenged law affects conduct protected by the Second Amendment, and if so, what level of scrutiny to apply.”

Panel members noted that the law bolstered public safety rationale in reducing gun violence and does not outlaw the weapon entirely but rather places a limit on the size of the magazine that may be used with firearms.

“The record demonstrates that the limitation interferes only minimally with the core right of self-defense, as there is no evidence that anyone ever has been unable to defend his or her home and family due to the lack of a large-capacity magazine,” the panel wrote, adding that “the limitation saves lives.”

Panelists also noted that “in the past half-century, large-capacity magazines have been used in about three-quarters of gun massacres with 10 or more deaths and in 100 percent of gun massacres with 20 or more deaths, and more than twice as many people have been killed or injured in mass shootings that involved a large-capacity magazine as compared with mass shootings that involved a smaller-capacity magazine.”

Subsequently, the Court of Appeals ruled that California’s ban “on legal possession of large-capacity magazines reasonably supported California’s effort to reduce the devastating damage wrought by mass shootings.”

Panel members added that the law, “does not, on its face, effect a taking” because “the government acquires nothing by virtue of the limitation on the capacity of magazines,” and that because LCMs owners are allowed to modify or sell their nonconforming magazines, the law also “does not deprive owners of all economic use.”

The Epoch Times has contacted District Judge Roger T. Benitez for comment.

The decision comes as a victory for Gov. Gavin Newsom and gun-control advocates.

“Weapons of war don’t belong on our streets,” Newsom wrote on Twitter on Tuesday. “This is a huge victory for the health and safety of all Californians.”

Chuck Michel, president of the California Rifle & Pistol Association said in a statement, “Sadly, the court reversed CRPA’s historic wins in both the district court and before the three-judge Ninth Circuit panel that upheld the district court’s ruling,” adding that his group will appeal to the Supreme Court.

“We are truly disappointed that the Ninth Circuit en banc panel decided to go against the solid constitutional reasoning of other judges to strike down this win for gun owners,” Michel said.

“We will be appealing to the Supreme Court for a final determination because gun owners deserve to have someone fighting for them and their rights. The Second Amendment is a fundamental right, and it is time that courts stop treating that right like a second-class gift from government.”

Katabella Roberts is a reporter currently based in Turkey. She covers news and business for The Epoch Times, focusing primarily on the United States.