Ninth Circuit: California Ban on Large Capacity Magazines Unconstitutional

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the State of California's ban on magazines that hold more than 10 rounds is a violation of the Second Amendment.

Ninth Circuit: California Ban on Large Capacity Magazines Unconstitutional

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that the State of California's ban on possession of magazines that hold more than 10 rounds is a violation of the Second Amendment.

The ruling was announced Aug. 14 and immediately hailed by gun rights groups as a win. The case is officially Virginia Duncan; Richard Lewis; Patrick Lovette; David Marguglio; Christophr Waddell; California Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc., a California corporation, vs. Xavier Becerra, in his official capacity as Attorney General of the State of California. District Judge Roger T. Benitez is presiding.

There was no immediate announcement by the state about an appeal or en banc hearing. The ruling Friday was made by a panel of Consuelo M. Callahan and Kenneth K. Lee, Circuit Judges, and Barbara M.G. Lynn, U.S. Chief District Judge for the Northern District of Texas (sitting by designation). The opinion was stated by Lee, with dissent by Lynn.

The court summary states:

The Ninth Circuit employs a two-prong inquiry to determine whether firearm regulations violate the Second Amendment: (1) whether the law burdens conduct protected by the Second Amendment; and (2) if so, what level of scrutiny to apply to the regulation. United states v. Chovan, 735 F.3d 1127, 1136 (9th Cir. 2013).

The panel held that under the first prong of the test, Cal. Penal Code § 32310 burdened protected conduct. First, the panel held that firearm magazines are protected arms under the Second Amendment. Second, the panel held that LCMs are commonly owned and typically used for lawful purposes, and are not “unusual arms” that would fall outside the scope of the Second Amendment. Third, the panel held that LCM prohibitions are not longstanding regulations and do not enjoy a presumption of lawfulness. Fourth, the panel held that there was no persuasive historical evidence in the record showing LCM possession fell outside the ambit of Second Amendment protection.

Proceeding to prong two of the inquiry, the panel held that strict scrutiny was the appropriate standard to apply. First, the panel held that Cal. Penal Code § 32310 struck at the core right of law-abiding citizens to self-defend by banning LCM possession within the home. Second, the panel held that Section 32310’s near-categorical ban of LCMs substantially burdened core Second Amendment rights. Third, the panel held that decisions in other circuits were distinguishable. Fourth, the panel held that this circuit’s decision in Fyock v. City of Sunnyvale, 779 F.3d 991 (9th Cir. 2015), did not obligate the panel to apply intermediate scrutiny.

The panel held that Cal. Penal Code § 32310 did not survive strict scrutiny review. First, the panel held that the state interests advanced here were compelling: preventing and mitigating gun violence. Second, the panel held that Section 32310 was not narrowly tailored to achieve the compelling state interests it purported to serve because the state’s chosen method – a statewide blanket ban on possession everywhere and for nearly everyone – was not the least restrictive means of achieving the compelling interests.

The panel held that even if intermediate scrutiny were to apply, Cal. Penal Code § 32310 would still fail. The panel held that while the interests expressed by the state qualified as “important,” the means chosen to advance those interests were not substantially related to their service.

Chief District Judge Lynn dissented, and would reverse the district court’s grant of summary judgment. Judge Lynn wrote that the majority opinion conflicted with this Circuit’s precedent in Fyock, and with decisions in all the six sister Circuits that addressed the Second Amendment issue presented here. Judge Lynn would hold that intermediate scrutiny applies, and Cal. Penal Code § 32310 satisfies that standard.

Read the entire ruling here.

The Second Amendment Foundation hailed the ruling.

“While this was not our case,” said SAF founder and Executive Vice President Alan M. Gottlieb, “this is a victory for all gun owners, and the majority opinion reflects our arguments in an amicus brief we submitted along with several other organizations. Most importantly, the panel majority used strict scrutiny to make its determination, and that is a huge milestone.”

SAF was joined in its amicus brief by the California Gun Rights Foundation, Firearms Policy Coalition, Firearms Policy Foundation, Armed Equality, San Diego County Gun Owners, Orange County Gun Owners, Riverside County Gun Owners, and California County Gun Owners.

In his ruling, Judge Lee observed, “We understand the purpose in passing this law. But even the laudable goal of reducing gun violence must comply with the Constitution. California’s near-categorical ban of LCMs infringes on the fundamental right to self-defense. It criminalizes the possession of half of all magazines in America today. It makes unlawful magazines that are commonly used in handguns by law-abiding citizens for self-defense. And it substantially burdens the core right of self-defense guaranteed to the people under the Second Amendment. It cannot stand.”


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