Last year, the voters of Sunnyvale, California decided to do something about gun violence in their community by voting overwhelmingly for Measure C, a ballot initiative that enacted several ordinances strengthening the City’s gun laws. Of course, the gun lobby responded to Measure C with its usual bullying tactics—filing two lawsuits in a desperate attempt to stop parts of Measure C from going into effect.
Fortunately, the Law Center was there to help, and secured the prestigious law firm of Farella Braun + Martel LLP to defend the city on a pro bono basis. Since, Sunnyvale’s new law has been consistently upheld despite the gun lobby’s efforts, as a state court denied an emergency motion by the plaintiffs in that case to stop Measure C’s ammunition record-keeping provision from going into effect.
Today, Sunnyvale’s new law was upheld again, as U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy refused an emergency request by the plaintiffs to stop Measure C’s ban on the possession of large capacity ammunition magazines from going into effect. The plaintiffs were forced to seek “emergency” relief from Justice Kennedy after a federal district court last week denied their motion for a preliminary injunction to stop the law from taking effect, and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals similarly refused to block the law.
These lethal magazines allow a shooter to fire dozens of rounds—and kill countless people—without pausing to reload, and because of this, they have been consistently used in mass shootings, including in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. In this lawsuit, the plaintiffs are making the radical claim that the Second Amendment completely prohibits communities from doing anything to stop the spread of these deadly magazines.
Fortunately, the district court largely rejected those arguments, and Justice Kennedy—widely considered the “swing vote” in controversial Supreme Court cases—declined to disturb that ruling at this stage. While the district court found that the law did place a burden on Second Amendment rights, the court found that burden was “light” because “[m]agazines having a capacity to accept more than ten rounds are hardly crucial for citizens to exercise their right to bear arms.” Indeed, the court went on to observe that the measure left open “countless other handgun and magazine options” for gun users.
The court found that the ordinance was valid given the “substantial evidence” presented by the City showing that the ban would help reduce the threat of gun violence. The court credited the City for offering “pages of credible evidence, from study data to expert testimony to the opinions of Sunnyvale public officials” demonstrating that this measure is reasonably related to promoting public safety. Thus, the court found that the plaintiffs were not likely to succeed on their claim that the ordinance violates the Second Amendment, and denied their motion.
This ruling echoes a similar ruling in San Francisco a few weeks ago, and is consistent with other rulings upholding large capacity ammunition magazine bans in Connecticut and New York. Of course, this fight is not over. There are also pending cases raising similar issues in Colorado, Illinois, and Maryland. Plus, the Sunnyvale ruling has already been appealed. The Law Center will continue to do everything it can to support these communities as they defend these critical laws in the courts.