Press Release

Second Amendment Experts Denounce Court Ruling on California Ammunition Background Checks

April 24, 2020 — Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence denounced a decision from the US District Court for the Southern District of California that will delay the implementation of the state’s ammunition background check law passed by voters as part of Proposition 63. The opinion in Rhode v. Becerra, grants a preliminary injunction requested by the California Rifle & Pistol Association (the state’s NRA chapter).

The ruling on Thursday, by Judge Roger T. Benitez, will have the effect of temporarily blocking the ammunition background check that was part of the package of lifesaving gun laws passed by voters with a two-to-one margin in 2016 through Proposition 63 — until the judge can issue a final ruling. Two years ago, Judge Benitez authored the outlier decision enjoining California’s large-capacity magazine restrictions, departing from the decisions of six federal appellate courts that have upheld lifesaving limitations on the capacity of magazines.

Hannah Shearer, Litigation Director at Giffords Law Center:

“This reckless, overbroad decision defies common sense and disregards the needs of public safety. In 2016, California voters adopted the requirement for buyers to get a criminal background check for ammunition in response to research that proved retail outlets were selling over ten thousand rounds of ammunition to convicted felons and other illegal purchasers each month.

“The ruling ignores this public safety research and relies on a fictional narrative promoted by the gun lobby. It’s especially dangerous with the gun-lobby using the deadly pandemic to stoke fear and encourage the American public to buy guns instead of respecting essential public health measures like stay at home orders. At times like these, Californians should be able to trust judges to sort through misinformation about the background check process, follow precedent, and consider the advice of public safety experts. Unfortunately, this decision does the opposite.”

About Prop 63 and the Gun Lobby’s Challenges:

In 2016, Giffords Law Center partnered with Governor (then-Lieutenant Governor) Gavin Newsom to draft and advocate for Proposition 63’s bold gun safety reforms, which included a groundbreaking requirement for background checks on ammunition purchases, new measures to ensure felons relinquish firearms, and restrictions on large-capacity ammunition magazines. Yesterday’s injunction affects only the ammunition background check requirement. Before voters approved Proposition 63, California (like many states) did not regulate ammunition sales, with the result that dangerous people could have unlimited quantities of ammunition mailed to their door with no background check and no questions asked.

The California Rifle & Pistol Association (the California state affiliate of the NRA) brought successive lawsuits challenging, first, Proposition 63’s restrictions on large-capacity magazines and second, the ammunition background checks law. Due to a local court rule, the later-filed challenge was referred to the same judge who sided against Proposition 63 in the earlier case after a request by the California Rifle & Pistol Association, although the cases involved completely separate laws enacted by the initiative.