Judge Rules California Ban on High-Capacity Ammo Magazines 'Unconstitutional'

Michael W. Chapman | April 2, 2019 | 3:58pm EDT
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High-capacity gun magazine.

(CNSNews.com) -- U.S. District Court Judge Roger Benitez, for the Southern District of California, ruled on Friday that a California law banning high-capacity gun magazines -- more than 10 bullets per magazine -- was "unconstitutional in its entirety." The ruling prohibits California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and all law enforcement officers in the state from enforcing the rule against owning high-capacity ammo clips.

Gun "magazines holding more than 10 rounds are 'arms,'" said the judge, in reference to the Second Amendment right to "keep and bear arms," and “individual liberty and freedom are not outmoded concepts."

He added, "This decision is a freedom calculus decided long ago by Colonists who cherished individual freedom more than the subservient security of a British ruler. The freedom they fought for was not free of cost then, and it is not free now."

Judge Roger Benitez.  (YouTube)

Back in 2000, California banned the buying and selling of high-capacity magazines but allowed people who already owned them to keep them. However, in November 2016 California passed Proposition 63, a sweeping gun-control measure that included a rule to end the 2000 provision on possessing the high-capacity clips.

That proposal was challenged by Virginia Duncan (and other plaintiffs) starting in May 2017 (Duncan v. Becerra). 

In a statement following the March 29 ruling, the National Rifle Association's Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA) said that Judge Benitez had "handed Second Amendment supporters a sweeping victory by completely invalidating California’s 10-round limit on magazine capacity."

"Indeed, he characterized the California law as 'turning the Constitution upside down,'" noted the NRA. "He also systematically dismantled each of the state’s purported justifications for the law, demonstrating the factual and legal inconsistencies of their claims."

(Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images) 

Chris Cox, executive director of the NRA-ILA, said the decision was a "huge win for gun owners."

“Judge Benitez took the Second Amendment seriously and came to the conclusion required by the Constitution,” said Cox. “The same should be true of any court analyzing a ban on a class of arms law-abiding Americans commonly possess for self-defense or other lawful purposes.”

Tiffany Cheuvront, an attorney for the California Rifle and Pistol Association, one of the plaintiffs in the case, said, "who's to say that 10 rounds is not enough" to protect yourself in a home invasion? "Who's to say that 20 rounds is not enough? When you have people coming into your home and trying to commit a crime against you, you don't know what's enough -- and it's up to you to protect your family."

(Photo by George Frey/Getty Images) 

In his ruling, Judge Benitez detailed several cases where homeowners had to defend themselves and their children against multiple intruders. One woman was shot, then stumbled to the bedroom to find her husband's .22 pistol. She then fired warning shots at the intruders and then shot one of the attackers. By then, she was out of bullets, and was shot again. 

"She was not able to re-load or use a second gun," explained the judge. "Both she and her husband were shot twice. Forty-two bullets in all were fired. The gunman fled from the house—but returned. He put his gun to Susan Gonzalez’s head and demanded the keys to the couple’s truck."

In another case, a woman was shooting at intruders and trying to dial 911, but the police did not answer. "She fired numerous shots," wrote the judge.  "She had no place to carry an extra magazine and no way to reload because her left hand held the phone with which she was still trying to call 911. After the shooting was over and two of the armed suspects got away and one lay dead, she did get through to the police."

"In one year in California (2017), a population of 39 million people endured 56,609 robberies, 105,391 aggravated assaults, and 95,942 residential burglaries," said Judge Benitez. "There were also 423 homicides in victims’ residences. There were no mass shootings in 2017."

"Nationally, the first study to assess the prevalence of defensive gun use estimated that there are 2.2 to 2.5 million defensive gun uses by civilians each year," he wrote. "Of those, 340,000 to 400,000 defensive gun uses were situations where defenders believed that they had almost certainly saved a life by using the gun. Citizens often use a gun to defend against criminal attack."

In his 86-page ruling, Judge Benitez frequently cited the Supreme Court's 2008 ruling in the case of District of Columbia v. Heller. In that case, the high court held, "The Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home."


"At the core of the Second Amendment is a citizen’s right to have in his and her home for self-defense common firearms," wrote Judge Benitez. "As evidenced by California’s own crime statistics, the need to protect one’s self and family from criminals in one’s home has not abated no matter how hard they try. Law enforcement cannot protect everyone."

"[A] magazine is an essential mechanical part of a firearm," said the judge.  "The size limit directly impairs one’s ability to defend one’s self. Neither magazines, nor rounds of ammunition, nor triggers, nor barrels are specifically mentioned in the Second Amendment. Neither are they mentioned in Heller. But without a right to keep and bear triggers, or barrels, or ammunition and the magazines that hold ammunition, the Second Amendment right would be meaningless."

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