You have likely heard the news that the Hon. Judge Benitez (Termed Saint Benitez by many) has once again ruled that the California law limiting magazine capacity unconstitutional.
What makes this decision even more interesting is the timeline and history of how we got to Friday’s new decision. Let’s get into what led up to this, then cover what this means for California gun owners.
Magazines holding more than 10 rounds have been prohibited in CA, with the exception of tubular magazines (As used with many .22 rifles) since 2000, however those in possession were ‘Grandfathered in.’ Standard capacity, or “High capacity” magazines have not been sold in shops or included with firearm purchases since then.
In 2016 California voters passed Proposition 63, which provided a blanket ban on magazines holding more than 10 rounds for citizens of California, including importation, sale, possession, etc. This blanket ban did away with the ‘Grandfather in” magazines which were previously owned legally, allowing the state to require them to be turned over for destruction.
The state can’t just take your property without compensating you, can they?
California Initiative Process
A quick note from my pre-law days, California is one of a few states that has a “Initiative process.” This is a grassroots method of creating legislation that bypasses the institutional governing bodies of the state. Anyone can start a proposition, and if they gather enough signatures it will be placed on the ballot during the election cycle. An interesting note, initiatives are not checked for constitutionality, until after they take effect and are challenged in court.
The Initial Ruling
Proposition 63 and California’s mag capacity laws were challenged in the court case Duncan v. Bonta, whereas Duncan and others challenged the California ban. Hon. Judge Benitez issued his infamous ruling in spring of 2019 which led to what many affectionally call “Freedom week” as he declared the magazine restrictions unconstitutional. Some substantive outcomes from this ruling included that the state could not take legally purchased property without just compensation, as well as declaring a capacity ban unconstitutional at face value.
During this time an unmeasurable number of magazines that held greater than 10 rounds flooded the state of California. A local shop owner shared with me that people bought magazines for guns they did not even own, simply on the chance they may buy the firearm someday. Unfortunately, Attorney Gen. Bonta appealed the decision, causing the ruling to be “Stayed” pending a ruling from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The 9th Circuit ultimately ruled in favor of the State, and this matter was effectively put to bed. So the state can take your property without paying you?
New York Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen
This case began when petitioners, Robert Nash and Brandon Koch, applied for licenses to carry handguns for self-defense and were denied. They alleged that New York’s “proper cause” requirement violates the Second Amendment. However, the decision did much more for the Second Amendment than just this.
The result was the landmark Buren decision, the major impact being that firearm legislation must be consistent with “The history, text, and tradition” of the 2nd Amendment.
It is impossible to summarize the potential impact this decision could have for decades into the future. Take for instance, the lack of history, text, and tradition of laws requiring background checks for ammunition, body armor bans, “Assault weapon” Bans, etc.
The impact of Bruen will likely take decades to be measured.
California High Capacity Mag Law in 2023
The Supreme Court ordered the 9th Circuit to vacate their decision in Duncan v. Bonta, which put the ball back into the court (literally) of Hon. Judge Benitez. California gun owners eagerly awaited his decision for several months, and he released his 71 page legal decision Friday which you can read at your leisure, I highly recommend you do.
Frankly it is too densely packed with information, precedence, examples, and history to begin to summarize, but the orders are as follows.
Before getting too excited, these orders will not take effect until the 2nd of October, giving California the opportunity to appeal. Attorney Gen. Bonta has already filed an intent to appeal the decision, which will send it back to the 9th Circuit.
However, this time is different, the Supreme Court already stated they did not agree with the initial decision on the 9th Circuit when they vacated their ruling. Further, the outline for interpretation provided under Bruen has already contributed to Teter v. Lopez in the 9th Circuit decision which ruled unconstitutional a law outlawing the use of butterfly knives.
From here unfortunately it is another waiting game, however it is likely the 9th Circuit will agree with the 71 page decision by Judge Benitez in the wake of Bruen. For now however, patients is key, in 7 more days from the date this article is published we will know one way or the other if Freedom Week 2.0 is upon us. The 10 day stay of these orders may have taken some of the wind out of the sails, but this is good news. One way or another standard capacity magazines will be legal in California once again, it is just a matter of time.
“There is no American history or tradition of regulating firearms based on the number of rounds they can shoot, or of regulating the amount of ammunition that can be kept and carried. Because the State did not succeed in justifying its sweeping ban and dispossession mandate with a relevantly similar historical analogue, [California’s magazine limit] is hereby declared to be unconstitutional in its entirety and shall be enjoined.” -Hon. Judge Benitez 9/22/23
The opinions expressed in this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Tacticon Armament.