Last month, a gun lobby group filed last-minute litigation to try to delay implementation of new limits on large-capacity magazines included in California’s Proposition 63, a package of lifesaving gun laws voters approved by a two-to-one margin this past November. The state’s NRA chapter, the California Rifle & Pistol Association, filed its lawsuit in Duncan v. Becerra at the 11th hour, mere weeks before Proposition 63’s LCM limitations were slated to go into effect on July 1. Unfortunately, yesterday a federal judge in San Diego temporarily sided with the gun lobby by issuing an injunction that delays implementation of Proposition 63’s commonsense restrictions on the possession of dangerous military-style magazines.
California’s magazine restrictions are one component of Proposition 63’s package of bold gun safety reforms, which the Law Center drafted in partnership with Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom. The measure closed several loopholes in California’s gun laws, and included a groundbreaking requirement for background checks on ammunition purchases and laws to ensure felons relinquish their firearms upon conviction. Yesterday’s opinion issuing an injunction only affects the ban on large-capacity magazines holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition.
The more than 60-page opinion, written by US District Judge Roger Benitez of the Southern District of California, held that a temporary injunction was necessary to allow for further study of whether California’s magazine limitations violate the Second Amendment or are an unlawful government “taking” without compensation. His ruling was an extreme departure from settled law in this area. Every other court to have considered magazine regulations, including four federal appeals courts, have rejected similar constitutional arguments and upheld sensible restrictions on these deadly accessories, which have been used in major mass shootings like the massacres at Sandy Hook Elementary, San Bernardino, and the Pulse nightclub.
In fact, earlier in the day, a similar challenge to Proposition 63’s magazine law, Wiese v. Becerra, was heard by Senior District Judge William Shubb, a George H.W. Bush appointee, in California’s Eastern District. Judge Shubb ruled that the law does not violate the Second Amendment and is not a government “taking.” With a split in the courts, the gun lobby’s large-capacity magazine challenges will likely now head to the Ninth Circuit. That court previously affirmed a decision upholding the constitutionality of a local law prohibiting possession of large-capacity magazines—a decision a lot like Judge Shubb’s ruling in favor of Proposition 63.
For that reason, we are confident that yesterday’s flawed decision to block California’s new limits on large capacity magazines will be quickly overturned. As other courts have determined, restrictions on such magazines are lawful because these exceedingly dangerous accessories, so often selected by mass shooters for their lethal efficiency, are better suited for military applications than civilian self-defense. The gun lobby’s position that these magazines enjoy absolute Second Amendment protections contradicts the words of late Justice Scalia, who wrote in Heller that the Second Amendment is “not unlimited” and is “not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatsoever purpose.”
It’s not surprising that when the gun lobby lost at the ballot box, their next move was to turn to the courts. Fortunately, the clock can’t be turned back on progress forever. Proposition 63 is just one reason why California leads our nation in the enactment of lifesaving gun policy reforms. The state has had remarkable success – in the past two decades, California has comprehensively strengthened its gun laws and cut the state’s gun death rate by nearly 60%, transforming California from one of the most violent states in the nation to one of the safest. We expect these remarkable gains will continue when Proposition 63 is fully implemented.