9th Circuit Court Stay Keeps CA’s Ammunition Background Checks Law In Place

A box of .45 cal. ammunition is offered for sale at Freddie Bear Sports.

A box of .45 cal. ammunition is offered for sale at Freddie Bear Sports.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and Governor Gavin Newsom announced on Thursday that the state was able to convince the U.S. Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to issue a stay of a district court's preliminary injunction on California's voter-approved ammunition background checks law. Today's order means the law requiring background checks on ammunition purchases will remain in effect while the appellate court reviews the preliminary injunction appeal.

"Our commonsense law requiring background checks for ammunition sales not only can save lives, it keeps our communities safe," said Becerra. "Violent criminals and people with serious mental illnesses shouldn't be able to get their hands on ammunition. While our fight isn't over, this decision is an important victory, allowing us to enforce the law for the protection of loved ones statewide."

.223 AR-15 ammunition and a high capacity 30 round clip sits on the table at the "Get Some Guns & Ammo" shooting range.

.223 AR-15 ammunition and a high capacity 30 round clip sits on the table at the "Get Some Guns & Ammo" shooting range.

In 2016, Californians approved Proposition 63, which not only required the background checks for ammunition purchases but also prohibited the possession of large-capacity ammunition magazines holding more than ten rounds.

On April 26, 2018, a lawsuit was filed by the California Rifle and Pistol Association and other plaintiffs who claimed the provisions of Proposition 63, including the prohibition that prevented most Californians from buying ammunition outside the state then bringing it into California without first having it delivered to a licensed dealer was a violation of the Second Amendment and imposed burden on interstate commerce that also was unconstitutional.

On March 29, 2019, Judge Roger Benitez issued a ruling that the ban on large-capacity magazines was unconstitutional. "The statute hits at the center of the Second Amendment and its burden is severe," he wrote in the ruling. However, Benitez then stayed his own decision on April 5, 2019, pending an appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

On April 23, 2020, Benitez ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, placing an injunction on Proposition 63's provisions regarding purchasing ammunition outside the state without going through a licensed dealer. In that ruling he wrote, "The experiment has been tried. The casualties have been counted. California’s new ammunition background check law misfires and the Second Amendment rights of California citizens have been gravely injured."

Both the governor and attorney general insisted in a written statement that voters found the law's reforms were necessary because gun violence kills or seriously injures thousands of Californians each year and regulatory gaps in ammunition sales were contributing to the problem.

"California’s strong gun safety laws are thoughtful safeguards that help deter crime, and protect our schools and communities," the governor added. "In the interest of public safety, we are encouraged by the Ninth Circuit Court's decision to stay the district court's order, and hope for a resolution that ensures Californians' safety."

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