California Law Requiring Background Check To Buy Ammunition Restored By 9th Circuit


Authored by Zachary Stieber via The Epoch Times (emphasis ours),

A California law requiring people undergo a background check to purchase ammunition can be in effect while a legal challenge to the law is considered by the courts, federal judges ruled on Feb. 5.

Ammunition in a store in California in a file illustration. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

A divided panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit stayed an injunction against the law that was entered days earlier by U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez, who ruled the law clashed with the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment.

The two judges on the appeals court who stayed the injunction, U.S. Circuit Judges Richard Clifton and Holly Thomas, did not explain their decision, which remains in effect for now as the case moves forward, beyond referring to a previous ruling in a separate case.

That ruling, in Nken v. Holder, went over the standard for entering a stay pending appeal.

U.S. Circuit Judge Consuelo Callahan, the third member of the panel, dissented.

I would deny the motion for a stay pending appeal,” she said. “I do not believe appellant has met his burden of showing a likelihood of success on the merits or that irreparable injury will occur absent a stay.”

Judges Benitez, Clifton, and Callahan were appointed by President George W. Bush. Judge Thomas was appointed by President Biden.

California Attorney General Rob Bonta, a Democrat who asked for the appeals court to stay the injunction, cheered the decision.

“California’s life-saving ammunition laws will remain in effect as we continue to defend them in court,” Mr. Bonta said in a statement. “We will never stop fighting to protect Californians from the scourge of gun violence.”

The law was challenged by a group including Kim Rhode, an Olympic gold medal winner, and the California Rifle & Pistol Association.

Chuck Michel, president and general counsel for the association, said in a statement said it will seek further review by a different panel of the court and “restore the people’s right to buy the ammunition they need for sport or to defend their families.”

Background of Law, Ruling

California voters had in 2016 approved a ballot measure requiring gun owners to undergo initial background checks to buy ammunition, and pay $50 for a four-year ammunition permit.

Legislators amended the measure to require background checks for each ammunition purchase, starting in 2019.

Judge Benitez’s Jan. 30 ruling was the latest court decision declaring a gun restriction unconstitutional following the U.S. Supreme Court’s June 2022 ruling in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen.

That ruling found that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to carry a handgun in public for self-defense. It also established a new test for assessing firearms laws, saying restrictions must be “consistent with this nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation.”

Judge Benitez in his decision said ammunition background checks “have no historical pedigree and operate in such a way that they violate the Second Amendment right of citizens to keep and bear arms.” He suggested the version of the restriction imposed by voters might have been acceptable. It is ”not apparent” why lawmakers ditched the earlier version, he said.

The complaint from Ms. Rhode and others said that their Second Amendment rights were “unconstitutionally burdened” by the law and several other statutes, including one that requires ammunition sales to be conducted by vendors licensed by the state in face-to-face transactions.

The challenged provisions impose unprecedented and overreaching restraints on the right of law-abiding citizens, including plaintiffs, to acquire ammunition for self-defense and other lawful purposes, both directly and by imposing costly and unreasonable burdens on the purveyors of that constitutional right,” they said.

California officials had argued that the laws were “reasonable and effective” because they, among other effects, stopped “over 100 prohibited persons from purchasing ammunition in California.”

The laws “serve California’s substantial interest in public safety and crime prevention,” they said.

A previous district court decision was also against the laws and an appeal of that order resulted in the case being remanded to the lower court to rule again, following the high court’s decision in Bruen.

Motion to Stay Injunction

In a motion to stay the injunction, Mr. Bonta said that allowing the injunction to remain in place would change the status quo by preventing the enforcement of laws that have been in place for more than four years, enabling prohibited state residents to acquire ammunition and jeopardizing public safety.

“Background checks save lives,” Mr. Bonta said in announcing such a motion would be filed.

The California Department of Justice had issued guidance notifying officials that the laws covered by the injunction could not be enforced, pending the request for a stay.

Plaintiffs opposed the motion, arguing the lower court ruling was correct.

Sean Brady of Michel & Associates, one of the lawyers representing the plaintiffs, said that ruling “reiterates that California’s restrictions on ammunition purchasing are unconstitutional under yet another ruling in our favor and one that is in line with the Supreme Court opinion in Bruen.”

Reuters contributed to this report. 

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