The U.S. Ninth Circuit- Strikes Down California Ban on Large-Capacity Gun Magazines

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The panel consisted of Consuelo M. Callahan and Kenneth K. Lee, Circuit Judges, and Barbara M. G. Lynn, District Judge. Two members of the panel affirmed the District Court’s Judgment in favour of the plaintiffs. The Court held that the ban on the large-capacity ammunition is violative of the Second Amendment.

Background

Millions of Americans across the country own Large Capacity Magazines(LCMs). The Judgment relied on one estimate based in part on government data showing that from 1990 to 2015, civilians possessed about 115 million LCMs out of a total of 230 million magazines in circulation. The petitioners are Virginia Duncan and Others who have LCMs. In Duncan v. Becerra, a constitutional challenge was bought up in the Court based on the California Penal Code under section 32310. The District Court issued a preliminary injunction on the ban just two days before it was to be enforced. The District Court favoured the plaintiffs, and the Court of appeal affirmed the Judgment.

Arguments

The Heller test was contested in lengths in the case. The Heller Test questions whether the firearm is owned commonly by a law-abiding citizen for a lawful purpose. The counsels for the parties argued for the validity of this test, and the Court’s analysis depended upon expert witnesses. The state argues that its law does not impose a substantial burden on the Second Amendment because citizens still can defend themselves with guns equipped with non-LCMs. The Court denied accepting this contention stating that it would never uphold such a draconian limitation on other fundamental and enumerated constitutional rights.

The Court’s Opinion

The Court conducted a two-prong test. The panel held the following in the inquiry first; the panel held that firearm magazines are protected arms under the Second Amendment. The Second Amendment states that a well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a Free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed. The courts have time and again interpreted the Amendment to not include “unusual arms”. The panel held that LCMs are commonly owned and typically used for lawful purposes, and are not “unusual arms” that would fall outside the scope of the Second Amendment. The Court also brought in the right of a citizen to Self defence being of fundamental importance. In addition to this, the panel held that there was no persuasive historical evidence in the record showing LCM possession fell outside the ambit of Second Amendment protection.

The Chief District Judge Lynn dissented on the aspect of Intermediate Scrutiny. She held that the ban did not place a substantial burden on gun owners. Though they are prevented from using a certain subset of magazines, the ban does not prevent them from enjoying their Second Amendment rights entirely. She also included that intermediate scrutiny was the level of scrutiny applied by the Court’s sister circuits in similar large-capacity magazine cases, and the bans were upheld by those circuits.

Court’s Decision

Consuelo M. Callahan and Kenneth K. Lee, Circuit Judges, affirmed the district court judgment. The Court held that the ban on these large capacity magazines violates the Second Amendment. The decision is presently under review by the California Attorney General’s Office.


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