A federal judge from California determined on Sept. 22 that the state's ban on gun magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds is unconstitutional.
U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez in San Diego said the state's "sweeping ban" of the detachable magazines—sometimes referred to as high-capacity magazines—violates the Second Amendment rights of firearms owners because it bars people from using such magazines for lawful reasons, including self-defense.
"The history and tradition of the Second Amendment clearly supports state laws against the use or misuse of firearms with unlawful intent, but not the disarmament of the law-abiding citizen," the judge wrote.
The latest decision won't take effect immediately, and the state ban is likely to remain while the legal case is pending.
California Attorney General Rob Bonta, who enforces the state's laws, has filed a notice to appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. Mr. Bonta plans to seek a stay while he appeals the decision.
“We will continue to fight for our authority to keep Californians safe from weapon enhancements designed to cause mass casualties. In the meantime, if the Ninth Circuit stays the decision pending appeal, large-capacity magazines will remain unlawful for purchase, transfer, or possession in California."
Years-Long Legal BattleCalifornia has historically prohibited the buying, selling, or manufacturing of gun magazines with more than 10 rounds. But, in 2016, voters in the state approved a law that extended this prohibition to even owning these magazines.
Gun owners and the California Rifle & Pistol Association had filed a lawsuit in San Diego asserting that the law violated their right to self-defense and to bear arms under the U.S. Constitution's Second Amendment.
In March 2019, Judge Benitez ruled in favor of the gun owners, meaning that California couldn't ban people from owning such magazines. A trio of judges from the 9th Circuit upheld Judge Benitez's decision in August 2020.
But in November 2021, a larger panel of judges from the 9th Circuit voted 7–4 to overturn Judge Benitez's ruling, thus upholding the California law in banning the magazines.
Attorneys for the gun owners then asked the U.S. Supreme Court to consider the case. The high court, instead of hearing the case, vacated the 9th Circuit’s ruling and ordered it to reconsider the case using a new standard as set out in a separate U.S. Supreme Court decision in June 2022.
The 9th Circuit then sent the San Diego case back down to Judge Benitez. The judge on Sept. 22 ruled that state government attorneys failed to show evidence of any historically similar law that banned high-capacity magazines.
In his decision, Judge Benitez wrote that "there is no American tradition of limiting ammunition capacity." He added that detachable magazines "solved a problem with historic firearms: running out of ammunition and having to slowly reload a gun."
Commenting on the California ban, Judge Benitez wrote that the state is essentially denying citizens "the federal constitutional right to use common weapons of their own choosing for self-defense."
"There have been, and there will be, times where many more than 10 rounds are needed to stop attackers," the judge wrote. "Yet, under this statute, the State says 'too bad.'
"It says, if you think you need more than 10 chances to defend yourself against criminal attackers, you must carry more magazines. Or carry more bullets to hand reload and fumble into your small magazine while the attackers take advantage of your pause. On the other hand, you can become a criminal, too. So, the previously law-abiding California citizen who buys and keeps at her bedside a nationally popular Glock 17 (with its standard 17-round magazine) becomes the criminal, because the State dictates that a gun with a 17-round magazine is not well-suited for home defense."
Mr. Bonta, in his statement on Sept. 22, contended that Californians need to be kept safe from weapons enhancements that are "designed" to cause mass casualties.
"The Supreme Court was clear that Bruen did not create a regulatory straitjacket for states—and we believe that the district court got this wrong," the attorney general said in his statement.
"We will move quickly to correct this incredibly dangerous mistake. We will not stop in our efforts to protect the safety of communities and Californians’ rights to go about their business without fear of becoming victims of gun violence, while at the same time respecting the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding gun owners."
The San Diego case is one of three high-profile challenges to California gun laws that are getting new hearings in court. The other two cases challenge California laws banning assault-style weapons and limiting purchases of ammunition.
Chuck Michel, president of the California Rifle & Pistol Association, said in a statement that the Sept. 22 decision reflects the "sea change in the way courts must look at these absurdly restrictive laws." He praised Judge Benitez for a “thoughtful and in-depth approach.”
“Sure, the state will appeal, but the clock is ticking on laws that violate the Constitution,” Mr. Michel said.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom called Benitez's ruling “a radical decision.”
“Judge Benitez is not even pretending anymore. This is politics, pure and simple,” Mr. Newsom said. “It’s time to wake up. Unless we enshrine a Right to Safety in the Constitution, we are at the mercy of ideologues like Judge Benitez.”
The case is Duncan et al v. Bonta, U.S. District Court, Southern District of California, No. 17-01017.