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Court Rules CA Ammo Background Checks Unconstitutional

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In yet another victory for California’s beleaguered gun owners, a federal court has struck down the state law requiring in-person background checks for each purchase of standard ammunition.

In the case Rhode v. Bonta, Judge Robert Benitez of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California ruled on Jan. 31 that the restriction not only violated the Second Amendment, but also has “no historical pedigree.”

“The ammunition background checks laws have no historical pedigree and operate in such a way that they violate the Second Amendment right of citizens to keep and bear arms,” Judge Bonta wrote in his ruling. “The anti-importation components violate the dormant Commerce Clause and to the extent applicable to individuals traveling into California are preempted by 18 U.S.C. § 926A.

“Perhaps the simpler, four-year and $50 ammunition purchase permit approved by the voters in Proposition 63, would have fared better.”

Throughout the court process, the background check restriction was shown to be ineffective in what supporters had said it would do. Since it took effect, it mistakenly blocked 16.4% of lawful ammo purchases due to various administrative errors and database issues, while only catching .03% of purchases that were accurately prohibited.

The suit was brought by the California Rifle & Pistol Association (CPRA) on behalf of a number of ammunition sellers and shooters.

“Today’s ruling represents continued affirmation that the Bruen decision, and Heller before that, represent a sea change in the way courts must look at these absurdly restrictive laws,” CRPA President and General Counsel Chuck Michel said in a news alert. “Sure, the state will appeal, but the clock is ticking on laws that violate the Constitution.”

One of the parties listed in the suit, online retailer Ammunition Depot, was also quite pleased with the ruling.

“Like millions of gun owners, we share a deep appreciation for the freedoms guaranteed to us by our nation’s constitution, and we were alarmed by the overt violations this system sought to infringe on Second Amendment rights for our country’s most populous state,” Ammunition Depot CEO Dan Wolgin said following the decision. “We applaud the court’s decision, and Ammunition Depot is proud to have joined Kim Rhode, the CRPA and all others in this fight to protect the liberties we all hold dear as Americans.”

Judge Benitez had ruled against the law back in 2020, saying that it not only made California the only state in U.S. history to place such heavy restrictions on simple ammo purchases, but its convoluted policies created widespread hassle and confusion for residents, visitors, vendors and industry workers alike. Since then, the case has been tied up in appeals.

Of course, California’s anti-gun Gov. Gavin Newsom, who some people still consider a Democrat presidential contender in 2024, isn’t content to let the ruling stand, no matter how unconstitutional it is.

“Like clockwork, Judge Benitez has yet again put his personal politics and fealty for the gun lobby over the Constitution and common sense,” Newsom said. “California will fight this extremist, illogical and incoherent ruling as we defend our life-saving measures that are proven to keep our communities safe.”

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