U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez’s decision on Thursday to order a halt to the enforcement of California’s law requiring background checks on ammunition purchases is a huge win for gun owners in the state and around the country, and the judge’s 120-page decision is a “constitutional work of art” according to California Rifle & Pistol Association president Chuck Michel. On today’s Bearing Arms’ Cam & Co, Michel sits down with me to discuss some of the highlights of the opinion, as well as what happens next in Rhode vs. Becerra.
The most important takeaway from Judge Benitez’s opinion is the fact that, for now, anyway, it’s perfectly legal for Californians to purchase ammunition online and have it shipped to their home, drive across state lines to purchase ammunition for their firearms, or purchase ammunition without having to go through a background check system responsible for tens of thousands of false denials over the past seven months. As Michael notes, the state of California and Attorney General Xavier Becerra will almost certainly appeal Benitez’s decision to grant an injunction against enforcement of the law, either directly to the judge or to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. Hearings and a decision on any appeal could take place within a week, and it’s possible that the injunction could be stayed or overturned, but for now Michel says Californians are once again free to purchase ammunition just like every other American (if, of course, they can find any for sale).
In his opinion, Benitez made it clear that the ammunition background checks imposed on Californians aren’t likely to withstand judicial scrutiny at trial.
Ultimately, this case asks two questions. Is an untried, untested, sweeping ammunition background check system, that returns an unusually high percentage of rejections, a constitutionally-permissible burden to impose on the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding responsible citizens who desire to defend themselves with whatever common ammunition suits their situation?
Does a law which discriminates against ammunition sales in interstate commerce with alternative means to achieve its ends violate the dormant Commerce Clause?
Because a final decision on the merits is likely to answer both questions “yes,” but a final decision will take too long to offer relief, and because the statutes visit irrevocable harm on plaintiffs and those similarly situated, a state-wide preliminary injunction is necessary and justified to maintain the status quo ante. Because Plaintiffs have demonstrated, on this preliminary record, a likelihood of success on the merits, a likelihood of irreparable harm, a balance of equities that tips in their favor, and that an injunction would be in the public interest, a preliminary injunction is justified.
And why are the plaintiffs likely to prevail, according to Benitez? Because California’s ammunition laws aren’t simply regulating a right. They’re actually preventing law-abiding Californians from exercising their rights at all. This isn’t some narrowly tailored bit of legislation to try to keep criminals from acquiring ammunition. This law treats everyone who wants to purchase ammunition as guilty until proven innocent, but the right to purchase ammunition is just as much a part of the Second Amendment as the right to keep and bear arms, argues the judge.
This right was respected in California until July 1, 2019. Once a citizen’s right, purchasing ammunition has now become a matter of government license and largesse. As a result, California’s gun laws have become even more complicated.
In California, the State has enacted incrementally a burdensome web of restrictions on the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding responsible gun owners. The ammunition background check system and antiimportation laws add even more complexity, and there are more laws on the way. While this motion has been pending, the Governor has signed a raft of new “gun violence prevention” laws into existence (including a firearm precursor part background check). California already has an universal background check for firearms, an “assault weapon” ban, a ban on magazines holding more than 10 rounds, a gun registry, firearm confiscation orders, a minimum gun purchase age of 21 years, a limit of one firearm purchase per month, a requirement that would-be gun buyers first earn a safety certificate, a 10-day waiting period on gun purchases even for persons who already own a firearm, a ban on campus carry for self-defense, a ban on K-12 teachers being armed for self-defense, a ban on openly carrying a firearm, a highly restrictive concealed carry law, and a moribund roster of handguns permitted for retail sale, among others.
With its newest over-arching and sweeping background check system, the State completely chokes off many law-abiding responsible gun owners while burdening all citizens who want to buy ammunition. Another pesky loophole closed.
I love the sarcasm in that last line, but the entire opinion is worth reading. Chuck Michel says that Benitez wrote an incredibly thorough opinion, and one that’s meant to stand up to the expected arguments of both the state of California and Benitez’s colleagues in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.
Check out the entire interview with Chuck Michel above, but stick around afterwards for a brief conversation with David Adams, legislative affairs director for the Virginia Shooting Sports Association, who joined me to talk about the official end of the Virginia legislative session on Thursday and a look at the final status of some of the gun bills brought up yesterday. Also, if you want to read Judge Benitez’s opinion in its entirety (and I think you should), you can find it here.