Appeals court upholds California gun control law limiting high-capacity magazines

·3 min read
Chuck Liddy/TNS

A panel of 9th Circuit Judges on Tuesday upheld California’s ban on high-capacity magazines, saying the state restrictions on magazines that can hold more than ten rounds of ammunition is a reasonable effort to reduce gun violence.

The decision overturns of an earlier ruling by a federal judge in San Diego who has long been criticized by gun control advocates for his blunt condemnation of California gun laws.

The original case, brought by the California Rifle & Pistol Association and private gun owners, claimed the 2016 law restricting high-capacity magazines violated their Second Amendment rights.

In his 2019 ruling on the case, U.S. District Court Judge Roger T. Benitez’ struck down the restriction on firearm magazines, citing a number of burglary-homicides where he said the amount of ammunition available made the difference between life and death.

Benitez is also known for overturning California’s decades-old assault weapons ban, likening the AR-15 to a Swiss Army knife that could be used for “both home and battle.”

Benitez, in striking down that ban, said the harm from being injured by such a weapon in a mass shooting was rare, and that “more people have died from the COVID-19 vaccine than mass shootings in California.”

Deadly weapons in mass shootings

The panel of judges on Tuesday noted that, in the past half-century, large-capacity magazines have been used in about three-quarters of gun massacres with 10 or more deaths and in 100% of gun massacres with 20 or more deaths.

Furthermore, the judges wrote, more than twice as many people have been killed or injured in mass shootings that involved a large-capacity magazine as compared with mass shootings that involved a smaller-capacity magazine.

“California’s ban on large-capacity magazines imposes only a minimal burden on the exercise of the Second Amendment right. The law has no effect whatsoever on which firearms may be owned; as far as the challenged statute is concerned, anyone may own any firearm at all. Owners of firearms also may possess as many firearms, bullets, and magazines as they choose,” the court wrote in its opinion, spearheaded by Judge Susan P Graber.

The judges noted that people under fire by a mass shooter have a chance to hide or fight back when a gunman has to reload, contending a smaller magazine can save lives.

“In sum, large-capacity magazines provide significant benefit to soldiers and criminals who wish to kill many people rapidly. But the magazines provide at most a minimal benefit for civilian, lawful purposes,” the opinion reads.

Republican appointees claim bias against Second Amendment

The decision was not unanimous.

Judges went back and forth with one another in the main opinion and in dissenting opinions, at times suggesting fellow members of the court were acting on personal motives rather than legal evidence.

Judge Lawrence VanDyke, appointed to the court by former President Donald Trump, wrote in his dissent that the “majority of this court distrusts gun owners and thinks the Second Amendment is a vestigial organ of their living constitution.”

“This case is the latest demonstration that the Circuit’s current test is too elastic to impose any discipline on judges who fundamentally disagree with the need to keep and bear arms,” VanDyke wrote.

Judge Patrick J. Bumatay, joined by Judges Sandra S. Ikuta and Ryan D. Nelson, also dissented against the majority opinion. Bumatay and Nelson were appointed to the court by Trump; Ikuta was appointed to the appeals court by former President George Bush.

The judges wrote that the scrutiny applied by the majority “functions as nothing more than a black box used by judges to uphold favored laws and strike down disfavored ones.”

“While the court can acknowledge that California asserts a public safety interest, it cannot bend the law to acquiesce to a policy that contravenes the clear decision made by the American people when they ratified the Second Amendment,” Bumatay wrote.

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