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California can check backgrounds of ammunition buyers for now, court says

The appeals court decision pauses a lower court ruling that overturned the background checks.
Image: High capacity magazine
A semi-automatic rifle is displayed with a 25 shot magazine, left, and a 10 shot magazine, right, at a gun store in Elk Grove, Calif., on June 27, 2017.Rich Pedroncelli / AP file

A federal appeals court late Friday ruled that California could continue requiring background checks of ammunition buyers as a challenge to the voter-approved rule makes its way through the justice system.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit paused a lower court decision that overturned the checks, part of 2016 voter initiative Proposition 63, which also banned high-capacity magazines for firearms.

In a preliminary ruling Thursday, San Diego-based U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez sided with plaintiffs, including the California Rifle and Pistol Association and six-time Olympic medalist skeet shooter Kim Rhode, who argued the checks violate the Second Amendment right to bear arms.

The appeals court, represented by Judges Mary H. Murguia and Mark J. Bennett, didn't address the arguments.

The California Attorney General's office said in an email Saturday that "California's laws and regulations concerning ammunition transactions and background checks are in effect and will be enforced until further notice while the appellate court considers whether to stay the preliminary injunction for the duration of the appeal."

Attorney General Xavier Bacerra said in his late Friday emergency filing that retailers immediately offered ammo for sale without background checks after Thursday's ruling.

He argued there was a "near certainty that prohibited persons—convicted felons, violent misdemeanants, and others prohibited by law from possessing firearms and ammunition—will have easy access to ammunition" unless the San Diego ruling was paused.

The California Rifle and Pistol Association didn't respond immediately to a request for comment. It said in a statement late Friday that the state's defense "is just another play in California’s attempt to keep firearms and ammunition out of the hands of those that choose to use their firearm for lawful purposes."