Federal judge: California background-check requirement for ammo "gravely injured" 2nd Amendment rights

We don’t get too many feel-good stories in these days of COVID-19, but this one qualifies — and it even has a pandemic hook. The same federal judge who shot down California’s ban on “high capacity” magazines also threw out its requirement for a background check on every purchase of ammunition. Judge Roger Benitez called the law “onerous and convoluted,” and ruled that its enforcement “gravely injured” the Second Amendment rights of Californians.

One has to wonder just how many of those who supported this law in the salad days of pre-COVID-19 aren’t secretly cheering Benitez now:

U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez in San Diego issued a preliminary injunction on Thursday halting the law, ruling in favor of lobby group California Rifle & Pistol Association, which asked him to stop the checks.

“California’s new ammunition background check law misfires and the Second Amendment rights of California citizens have been gravely injured,” Benitez wrote in the order granting the group’s motion for a preliminary injunction.

The order also described the law as “onerous and convoluted” and “constitutionally defective”.

Benitez even underscored his ruling by referring to the pandemic. Americans need the ability to defend themselves and their families more than ever now, Benitez declared. They don’t need California politicians who are presently emptying jails to obstruct that right:

“Criminals, tyrants, and terrorists don’t do background checks. There is little evidence that pre-purchase ammunition background checking will accomplish the goal and the burden it places on the Constitutional rights of law-abiding firearm owners is profound.” …

At the end of his ruling, which granted a preliminary injunction barring California Attorney General Xavier Becerra from enforcing the background-check law, Benitez cited the coronavirus pandemic. “Courts are limping by while police make arrests for only the more serious crimes,” Benitez wrote. “Maintaining Second Amendment rights are especially important in times like these.”

The state argued that the background check was no burden, because it only added a “few minutes” to the sale “in the vast majority of cases,” but that also misses the point. California has even more stringent background-check and waiting-period requirements on firearms purchases than the federal government, which some liberals discovered to their displeasure at the beginning of the lockdown. The ammo-purchase regime effectively burdens them not just on purchase of firearms but redundantly and repeatedly on nearly every exercise of their constitutional right.

The most offensive part of the background-check regime was that it essentially just acted as a tax. California collected $1 on every sale of ammunition even if the buyer had already been entered in the ammunition-purchaser database. Longer-term licenses were available for another fee for those with even cleaner backgrounds. This amounted to a shakedown of gun users without any rational reason or any demonstration that it served a state interest in the narrowest possible way, a requirement when infringing on a constitutional right.

Becerra claimed that the law had prevented 750 barred people from buying ammunition since the law’s passage in 2016. Big deal, wrote Tom Knighton at Bearing Arms, who puts those numbers in perspective:

California Attorney General Xavier Bacerra, of course, isn’t a fan of the ruling. He argues that the law prevented some 750 criminals from obtaining ammunition. In a state of almost 40 million people and nearly 170,000 square miles, it stopped 750.

That’s a bit over one per 1,000 square miles.

Yeah, that law did all kinds of stopping of bad guys. For the record, more people were shot in Los Angeles alone than that. …

On one hand, it made things virtually impossible for law-abiding citizens to buy ammunition. On the other, the most it did was send bad guys out of state to buy ammo, with some undoubtedly stocking up in nearby Nevada and bringing it back to fill the demand in the newly created black market for ammunition.

How many convicts has California released in the last four weeks because of the COVID-19 pandemic? I’d bet it’s more than 750 — and those flagged purchases are over a nearly four-year period. That’s certainly one reason why the right to self-defense is “especially important in times like these.”

Becerra filed yesterday for a stay on Benitez’ order. He’ll likely get one from the Ninth Circuit, but the Supreme Court will almost certainly overturn it. And don’t be surprised if the disappointment on the Left turns out to be, er … somewhat muted when that happens. That will also be part of “times like these.”