IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Federal court rules against California's ban on high-capacity magazines

Even "well-intentioned laws must pass constitutional muster," which this did not, according to Appellate Judge Kenneth Lee.
Image: Large capacity magazines
From left, large capacity magazines for handguns, AK47 magazine, AR15 magazine and an SKS magazine at Norm's Gun and Ammo shop in Biddeford, Maine, on April 8, 2013.Shawn Patrick Ouellette / Portland Press Herald via Getty Images file

A federal appeals court on Friday ruled against the state of California and its ban on high-capacity magazines, calling it "well-intentioned" but unconstiutional.

A split ruling from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals said the state's ban on magazines holding more than 10 rounds of ammunition would infringe on the Second Amendment right to own firearms.

"In the wake of heart-wrenching and highly publicized mass shootings, the state of California barred its citizens from owning so-called 'large capacity magazines' (LCMs) that hold more than ten rounds of ammunition," Appellate Judge Kenneth Lee wrote for the panel’s majority.

"But even well-intentioned laws must pass constitutional muster. California’s near-categorical ban of LCMs strikes at the core of the Second Amendment — the right to armed self-defense. Armed self-defense is a fundamental right rooted in tradition and the text of the Second Amendment. Indeed, from pre-colonial times to today’s post-modern era, the right to defend hearth and home has remained paramount."

In dissent, Judge Barbara Lynn said the California law didn't trample on anyone's core Second Amendment freedoms.

"For this reason, the prohibition on LCMs is more analogous to a restriction on how someone exercises their Second Amendment rights, by restricting the number of bullets a person may shoot from one firearm without reloading," Lynn wrote.

And the majority agreed that California or any other state would still be well within its rights to impose waiting periods, require microstamping of guns or forbid felons, the mentally ill, or those guilty of domestic violence from owning firearms.

"Let us be clear: We are keenly aware of the perils of gun violence. The heartbreak and devastation caused by criminals wielding guns cannot be overstated. And we also understand the importance of allowing state governments the ability to fashion solutions to curb gun violence," according to the majority opinion.

The ruling now leaves it up to California Attorney General Xavier Becerra to possibly appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

"We are carefully reviewing the decision, with the goal of protecting public safety," according to a statement by attorney general spokeswoman Sarah Lovenheim.

She said Becerra "remains committed to using every tool possible to defend California's gun safety laws and keep our communities safe."

California has prohibited such magazines since 2000, but a U.S. District Court judge in San Diego ruled last year the ban was unconstitutional.

Chuck Michel, president and general counsel of the California Rifle & Pistol Association, called Friday's ruling "a major victory for the Second Amendment, both in California and across the country."

The gun advocate said he was confident in the U.S. Supreme Court,

“This is a huge win specifically for the right to possess these valuable self-defense tools. But more generally, this case may present the Supreme Court with an opportunity to set things straight on the underlying issue of what the standard of review test should be when considering any Second Amendment challenge,” Michel said in a statement.

“The Supreme Court seems inclined to do away with the complicated subjective tests that many courts have wrongly applied in Second Amendment cases, in favor of a clearer more objective 'originalist' approach that considers the text, history and tradition of a law to determine what infringements might be tolerated."