Skip to Main Content

Rhode v. Becerra: Fighting to Protect Ammunition Background Checks

Case Information: Rhode v. Becerra, No. 20-55437 (9th Cir. brief filed June 19, 2020).

At Issue: In 2016, California voters approved Proposition 63, a ballot measure that, among other things, required in-person sales and background checks for ammunition. As in most states, ammunition in California was previously unregulated and could be ordered in mass quantities from the internet, no questions asked. In 2018, opponents of Prop. 63 , including out-of-state ammunition sellers who wish to sell ammunition online to Californians without a background check, filed a lawsuit claiming that the new background check law violates the Second Amendment and the Dormant Commerce Clause. The district court agreed with the sellers that their businesses were disadvantaged and issued a preliminary injunction, blocking the law. The case is now on appeal before the Ninth Circuit, which has stayed the district court’s injunction, allowing ammunition background checks to continue in California.

Giffords Law Center’s Brief: Though we disagree with the district court’s Second Amendment analysis, our brief focuses on the Dormant Commerce Clause. The US Constitution’s Commerce Clause has a so-called “dormant” component that prevents states from adopting laws that interfere with interstate commerce by discriminating against out-of-state businesses. Our brief argues that an ammunition background check law and face-to-face purchase requirement does not discriminate against out-of-state commerce in this way, and the district court applied the wrong legal standard for deciding the issue. First, we point out that California’s law sets the exact same requirements for in-state and out-of-state online ammunition retailers. Then, we argue that plaintiffs presented no other evidence that out-of-state online sales were disadvantaged over in-state sales originating online. Finally, our brief explains that if the district court’s illogical analysis of the Dormant Commerce Clause were applied universally, every long-standing law requiring that transactions of regulated items be completed face to face (eg. alcohol, firearm, and cigarette sales) could be considered unconstitutional, and the ammunition industry would improperly be able to evade these longstanding, commonsense business regulations.

Read the full text of our amicus brief here.