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Posted By FFL Dealer Network on 04/23/2020 in Ammunition

Judge Blocks California Ammo Law

Judge Blocks California Ammo Law

Online ammo retailers were hammered April 23 and 24 with orders from California. 

U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez in San Diego ruled in favor of the California Rifle & Pistol Association. The Association asked him to toss the Golden State's law that ammo purchases must go through federal firearms license holders and be subject to background checks. 

This is not a permanent decision of the 2016 law the State's voters approved. It is a "preliminary injunction." 

The injunction means California residents can buy ammo at-will and even have it shipped directly to their homes. 

The judge says on Page 44 of the ruling, his injunction is likely to become permanent. 

"Ultimately, this case asks two questions. Is an untried, untested, sweeping ammunition background check system, that returns an unusually high percentage of rejections, a constitutionally-permissible burden to impose on the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding responsible citizens who desire to defend themselves with whatever common ammunition suits their situation? Does a law which discriminates against ammunition sales in interstate commerce with alternative means to achieve its ends violate the dormant Commerce Clause? 

"Because a final decision on the merits is likely to answer both questions "yes," but a final decision will take too long to offer relief, and because the statutes visit irrevocable harm on plaintiffs and those similarly situated, a state-wide preliminary injunction is necessary and justified to maintain the status quo ante," he wrote.

Read the whole order at The Free Beacon


Judge Benitez didn't pull any punches. The first paragraph reads: 

"The experiment has been tried. The casualties have been counted. California's new ammunition background check law misfires and the Second Amendment rights of California citizens have been gravely injured. In this action, Plaintiffs seek a preliminary injunction enjoining California's onerous and convoluted new laws requiring ammunition purchase background checks and implementing ammunition anti-importation laws. For the reasons that follow, the motion for a preliminary injunction is granted." 

The judge laid out four key and compelling reasons behind his argument. In his words, they are (emphasis his): 

"First, criminals, tyrants, and terrorists don’t do background checks. The background check experiment defies common sense while unduly and severely burdening the Second Amendment rights of every responsible, gun-owning citizen desiring to lawfully buy ammunition. 

"Second, the implementing regulations systematically prohibit or deter an untold number of law-abiding California citizen-residents from undergoing the required background checks. 

"Third, in the seven months since implementation, the standard background check rejected citizen-residents who are not prohibited persons approximately 16.4 % of the time. 

"Fourth, the ammunition anti-importation laws directly violate the federal dormant Commerce Clause." 


The ruling is not an absolute victory for gun rights. 

"Some laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of guns and ammunition do not infringe on Second Amendment rights. One example of a permissible regulation is a law requiring stores to display ammunition beyond the reach of customers. Nevertheless, the Second Amendment is not a 'loophole' that needs to be closed," he wrote. 

Prop 63, the voter-approved law, referred to some Second Amendment rights as loopholes. 

Points 2 and 3 are linked more closely than the rest. 

As the judge pointed out, more than 16 percent of people who tried to buy ammo were told no without reason or justification under the law. The judge described the process needed to buy ammo as "an unnecessarily complicated maze." He pointed to five different ways a person could try to buy ammo under the California law. 

Judge Benitez said the ID requirements under the law were too much. 

"Today, a United States Citizen who has only a standard California-issued DL or ID will not qualify to take the first step in purchasing ammunition, i.e., the ammunition background check. That citizen is completely blocked," he wrote.

Also, some people probably just didn't try any of the other methods needed to buy ammo. 

"How many gave up? If it is any indication, early on at two California stores, approximately one-half of the potential ammunition customers were turned away without a background check," he wrote.

Before the California law, the State estimated ammo purchases happened more than 13 million times a year. After the law went into effect, 635,856 ammo background checks were done to buy ammo through January 2020. The law took effect in July 2019. 

"What happened to the other 12 million projected ammunition transactions? One explanation could be that the State's estimate is far off -- not comforting when it comes to the State's predictive judgment. Another explanation could be that the background check laws are having incredibly chilling effects on law-abiding gun owners. Another explanation could be that the onerous and inescapable burden these background check laws impose are forcing purchasers to find alternative, possibly illicit, sources," the judge wrote.

Point 4 is quite clear. The Commerce Clause of the Constitution says only the federal government can regulate business that crosses state lines. Most ammo is made outside California. 

Note here that similar Commerce Clause challenges on gun rights have met with mixed results. 

Beyond the opinions he expressed on the points above, Judge Benitez said the law will have unintended consequences. 

"One, even more ammunition and more firearms will be bought. Human nature and the laws of economics being what they are, law-abiding citizens will probably delay ammunition purchases, purchase very large quantities when they do, and stockpile their ammunition, rather than submitting to more frequent background checks each time to buy smaller quantities as they may have need," he wrote.

The judge referred to the late Johnny Carson's TV character Carnac the Magnificent. He said even the comical swami could predict that ammo stockpiling would be another loophole to close. 

Point two, as he sort of referenced earlier in the ruling, is that criminals will ignore the law. They will buy ammo on the black market. Point three is related. He says criminals will become even more careful about buying ammo to avoid the law. He said they would also go out-of-state to purchase ammo. 


One of the purposes of the Constitution is to protect a minority group from the oppressive dictates of a majority group, as the judge says. In this part of the ruling, he adds the ability to buy ammo is inextricably linked to gun ownership. He cited two other court rulings, including the Supreme Court Case United State v. Miller, to back up his injunction. 

This is just one of several suits challenging the state law.

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