A federal judge on Wednesday blocked a California law that would have required background checks for people wanting to buy ammunition. The judge found that the California law, known as Proposition 63, violates the US Constitution’s Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms.
In 2016, California voters passed Proposition 63, which established background check requirements with the U.S. Department of Justice’s database for individuals wishing to purchase ammunition. The proposal passed with more than 62 percent of the vote and the provisions went into effect in July 2019.
A group of plaintiffs challenged Proposition 63 on constitutional grounds in addition to the California Penal Code sections. Together, the resolution and the penal code prohibited individual purchases and the importation of ammunition from other states.
U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez based his decision on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the case New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen, which stated:
(W) When the plain text of the Second Amendment covers a person’s conduct, the Constitution presumptively protects that conduct… (T) The government must demonstrate that the regulation is consistent with this country’s historical pattern of firearms regulation. Is in line with tradition. Only if firearms regulation is consistent with this nation’s historical tradition can a court conclude that the individual’s conduct falls outside the Second Amendment’s “unlawful mandate.”
The Court found that Bruen established that the Second Amendment right to bear arms established a parallel right to purchase and possess ammunition. Benitez argued that such a search is consistent with U.S. traditions regarding gun ownership. In the decision, Benitez wrote, “(A) plaintiff must allege that by preventing him from purchasing ammunition, the government’s background check system violated his right to bear arms.”
California attempted to defend the law under Bruen by claiming that the state government had a vested interest in regulating ammunition sales. However, the Court found the state’s argument insufficient to meet the Bruin threshold.
Challenged sections of the California Penal Code were also overturned due to a part of the U.S. Constitution known as the “dormant” commerce clause. The Commerce Clause gives the US federal legislature the power to regulate interstate commerce. The Passive Commerce Clause is a clause read into the Commerce Clause that prohibits states from discriminating against state commerce. In this case, Benitez found that, by not allowing California residents to purchase and import ammunition from other states, the California Penal Code discriminated against out-of-state ammunition sellers. This regulation left California residents with only one option: purchasing ammunition from in-state sellers.
California Attorney General Rob Bonta responded to the 0nX (formerly Twitter) decision on Wednesday. “We will seek an immediate stay of the district court’s decision to preserve CA’s life-saving, constitutional ammunition laws,” Bonta said in a post.