In a landmark ruling, a federal judge from California has struck down the state’s ban on gun magazines holding over ten rounds, championing the Second Amendment rights of firearms owners. Stationed in San Diego, U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez declared the state’s prohibition of detachable magazines, often labeled as high-capacity magazines, unconstitutional. This ruling underscores the fundamental right of citizens to utilize such magazines for lawful purposes, notably self-defense.
The case spotlighted a California state law that criminalizes the possession and use of standard firearm magazines, typically owned for lawful purposes. In his comprehensive 71-page decision, Judge Benitez emphasized that based on the text, history, and tradition of the Second Amendment, the law is unequivocally unconstitutional.
As noted by Judge Benitez, the Second Amendment has historically supported state laws against the misuse of firearms with unlawful intent but not the disarmament of law-abiding citizens. This recent decision, however, won’t take immediate effect, and the existing state ban is anticipated to persist. At the same time, the legal case continues its journey through the courts.
California Attorney General Rob Bonta, tasked with enforcing the state’s laws, has filed a notice to appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco. Bonta, a Democrat, plans to seek a stay while he appeals the decision. Over the past half-century, he highlighted the use of large-capacity magazines in numerous gun massacres, pledging to continue the fight to uphold the state’s authority in keeping Californians safe from weapon enhancements designed to cause mass casualties.
The legal battle surrounding this issue has spanned several years. California has traditionally banned the buying, selling, or manufacturing of gun magazines with over ten rounds. However, in 2016, voters in the state approved a law extending this prohibition to even owning these magazines. Gun owners, alongside the California Rifle & Pistol Association, filed a lawsuit in San Diego, asserting that the law infringed on their right to self-defense and bear arms under the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment.
In March 2019, Judge Benitez ruled in favor of the gun owners, a decision upheld by a trio of judges from the 9th Circuit in August 2020. Yet, in November 2021, a larger panel of judges from the 9th Circuit voted 7-4 to overturn Judge Benitez’s ruling, thus reinstating the California law banning the magazines.
The case took a significant turn when the U.S. Supreme Court vacated the 9th Circuit’s ruling and ordered a reconsideration, following a new standard set in a separate Supreme Court decision in June 2022. This new standard required that firearms restrictions be consistent with the nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation to pass muster.
Upon re-evaluation, Judge Benitez reiterated that state government attorneys failed to provide evidence of any historically similar law banning high-capacity magazines. He stressed that there is no American tradition of limiting ammunition capacity, and detachable magazines address a critical issue with historic firearms: the slow reload time during a dire situation.
Chuck Michel, president of the California Rifle & Pistol Association, lauded Judge Benitez for his thoughtful and in-depth approach, reflecting a sea change in how courts view these restrictive laws. Meanwhile, Governor Gavin Newsom labeled the ruling as radical, urging a Right to Safety enshrined in the Constitution to protect citizens from such judicial decisions.
This ruling emerges amidst a broader national dialogue on gun control. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris recently unveiled a new office focused on curbing gun violence, the “White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention.” This case, Duncan et al. v. Bonta, in the U.S. District Court, Southern District of California, No. 17-01017, is one of three high-profile challenges to California gun laws currently gaining traction in the courts, spotlighting the ongoing battle between individual rights and collective safety in the Golden State.