California ammunition background check law can remain in effect, court rules

By Nate Raymond

(Reuters) – California can proceed with enforcing a law requiring people to undergo background checks to buy ammunition, after a divided federal appeals court on Monday put on hold a judge’s ruling declaring it unconstitutional.

A 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel on a 2-1 vote stayed last week’s ruling by U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez in San Diego holding that the background checks law violated the right the bear arms protected by the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment.

The Democratic-led state had asked the 9th Circuit to intervene and issue a stay while it appealed what officials called a “dangerous” ruling by Benitez, an appointee of Republican former President George W. Bush who has ruled against other gun control measures in the past.

Monday’s decision was issued by U.S. Circuit Judges Richard Clifton and Holly Thomas, both appointees of Democratic presidents. U.S. Circuit Judge Consuelo Callahan, another Bush appointee, dissented, saying the state had not shown a likelihood of success on appeal.

Plaintiffs challenging the law in court included Kim Rhode, who has won three Olympic gold medals in shooting events, and the California Rifle & Pistol Association.

Chuck Michel, the group’s president and general counsel, in a statement said it will seek further review by a different panel of the court and “restore the people’s right to buy the ammunition they need for sport or to defend their families.”

California voters had in 2016 approved a ballot measure requiring gun owners to undergo initial background checks to buy ammunition, and pay $50 for a four-year ammunition permit.

Legislators amended the measure to require background checks for each ammunition purchase, starting in 2019.

Benitez’s Jan. 30 ruling was the latest court decision declaring a gun restriction unconstitutional following the conservative-majority Supreme Court’s June 2022 ruling in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen.

That ruling recognized for the first time that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to carry a handgun in public for self-defense. It also established a new test for assessing firearms laws, saying restrictions must be “consistent with this nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation.”

Benitez in his decision rejected California’s reliance on dozens of laws dating back to 1789 as “historical analogues” for ammunition checks and said the law had “no historical pedigree.”

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in Boston; editing by Miral Fahmy)

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