After Several Days of Freedom, Ninth Circuit Resurrects California Ammo Law

AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File

California gun owners didn’t get to enjoy a full week of freedom as they did when Judge Roger Benitez enjoined the state’s ban on “large capacity” magazines a few years ago, but as attorney Kostas Moros wrote on X, the Ninth Circuit’s delayed stay in Rhode v. Bonta allowed them to experience what purchasing ammunition is like in the rest of the country for a short period of time.


Unfortunately, that brief taste of freedom came to an end, at least temporarily, on Monday evening as a three-judge panel on the Ninth Circuit granted Attorney General Rob Bonta’s request for a stay. That means that gun owners in the state are once again subjected to a background check every time they purchase ammunition, and are prohibited from purchasing ammunition online or out-of-state.

The decision isn’t exactly unexpected given the Ninth Circuit’s hostility towards the right to keep and bear arms, but it is kind of odd that it took the panel several days to respond to Bonta’s request. Gun owners took full advantage of that brief period when the restrictions on purchasing ammunition were lifted to stock up, with sales soaring online and at gun shows in the state over the weekend.


Yeah, now the irreparable harm is once again falling on the shoulders of lawful gun owners in the state. As Judge Benitez wrote in his opinion granting an injunction against enforcement of the ammunition restrictions, more than 10 percent of all ammunition purchases in the state are wrongly rejected at least temporarily, leaving those gun owners without the ability to purchase ammunition in a timely manner. That amounts to more than 58,000 false denials in the first six months of 2023, far more than the 141 purchases that were denied because the would-be buyer was on the state’s Armed and Prohibited Persons list.

To sum up, approximately 635,000 residents were required to undergo background checks in the last half of 2019, the denials of which prompted the arrests of 15 individuals which led to six criminal convictions.

In the first half of last year, 589,087 individuals traveled to an ammunition vendor to buy ammunition. They proved their citizenship and residency with identification documents and paid for a background check. The State’s computers rejected 58,087 or 11% of them. This is an average of 322 individuals rejected every day. How many of the 58,087 needed ammunition to defend themselves against an impending criminal threat and how many were simply preparing for a sporting event, we will never know. What is known is that in almost all cases, the 322 individuals that are rejected each day are being denied permission to freely exercise their Second Amendment right — a right which our Founders instructed shall not be infringed.

The Fifteenth Amendment directs that the right to vote shall not be denied or abridged. A state law requiring identification before voting, where 4.5% of all voters lacked the requisite identification documents to vote, was struck down because the excessive burden abridged the constitutional right, and more specifically for violating the Voting Rights Act (legislation that flows from the Fifteenth Amendment). If a state identification requirement for voting which burdens 4.5% of registered voters is an unconstitutional burden on the Fifteenth Amendment, surely a state identification requirement that blocks an untold number of gun owners from undergoing an ammunition background check and then rejects 11% of those who are checked, is likewise an unconstitutional burden on the Second Amendment.


Benitez didn’t just find that California’s ammo restrictions likely violated the Second Amendment. He also determined that it abridged the Dormant Commerce Clause of the U.S. Constitution “by erecting a barrier to ammunition sellers in other states.” California gun owners are forbidden from purchasing ammunition online and having it shipped to their home, and are prohibited as well from bringing ammo purchased in neighboring states like Nevada or Arizona back across the state line. That’s forced some gun owners in towns like Needles to drive 100 miles to the nearest California gun store rather than make a quick run to a gun shop in Lake Havasu City, Arizona.

As Benitez wrote, “The Attorney General has pointed to no other laws in the nation that erect a similar barrier to this one, keeping away out-of-state ammunition sellers and guaranteeing all sales originate with, or flow through, only in-state ammunition sellers.” That kind of “purposeful discrimination”, in Benitez’s words, is a clear violation of the Dormant Commerce Clause, and the only remedy “for the benefit of the nation as a whole, is to enjoin enforcement of these protectionist laws and permit out-of-state businesses to sell directly to California’s residents.”

The next step in Rhode is an appeal to a three-judge panel that will consider the merits of Benitez’s decision, so there’s still hope that the reinstatement of the ammunition restrictions will be a brief hiccup. For now, though, California gun owners are back living under the state’s broken ammunition background check system that infringes on their Second Amendment rights and denies hundreds of law-abiding citizens the ability to purchase ammunition for every prohibited person it ensnares in its net; a law that’s only “common sense” if you don’t believe that the Second Amendment protects a real civil right in the first place.



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