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Federal judge blocks California ban on high-capacity magazines

A federal judge has imposed an injunction on a California law that threatens to force gun owners to destroy or turn in any magazines that hold over 10 bullets, stating that the law violates Second Amendment rights. (Getty Images)

U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez on Thursday blocked a California law that would have prevented gun owners from possessing high-capacity ammunition magazines. He made his ruling on the grounds that the law violates Second Amendment rights and equates to government seizure of property without just compensation, The Associated Press reported.

Proposition 63, a measure proposed by California Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) and approved by an overwhelming majority (63 percent) of California voters in November, would have barred the possession of "large capacity" magazines that hold more than 10 bullets.

A California law enacted in 2000 already made it illegal to buy or sell such magazines, but it did not prevent Californians from owning the magazines.

According to the AP, had the law taken effect, California residents would have been forced to send their high-capacity magazines out of state, alter them so they hold only 10 rounds, destroy them, or turn them in to local law enforcement. Anyone caught possessing a magazine that held more than 10 rounds would have been subject to a $100 fine or up to a year in jail.

“Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of otherwise law-abiding citizens will have an untenable choice: Become an outlaw or dispossess one’s self of lawfully acquired property,” Benitez wrote in his ruling.

The injunction blocking the law is preliminary, while Benitez considers the underlying lawsuit filed by the National Rifle Association-affiliated California Rifle & Pistol Association. Gun owners can keep their magazines in the meantime until a final ruling by Benitez or an appeals court overturns the judge's injunction, according to California Rifle & Pistol Association attorney Chuck Michel.

“The State of California’s desire to criminalize simple possession of a firearm magazine able to hold more than 10 rounds is precisely the type of policy choice that the Constitution takes off the table,” the injunction read, according to the Sacramento Bee.

“This court recognized that the Second Amendment is not a second-class right and that law-abiding gun owners have the right to own these magazines to defend themselves and their families,” Michel said.

Critics of the decision such as California Attorney General Xavier Becerra believe that Benitez's decision contradicts the wishes of the voters, who approved of the law last year.

“Proposition 63 was overwhelmingly approved by voters to increase public safety and enhance security in a sensible and constitutional way,” Becerra said in a statement. “I will defend the will of California voters because we cannot continue to lose innocent lives due to gun violence.”

Benitez mentioned that he was mindful of the majority approval of the bill but noted that the “Constitution is a shield from the tyranny of the majority.” He also said in his decision that gun owners' rights “are not eliminated simply because they possess ‘unpopular’ magazines holding more than 10 rounds.”

Becerra argued in court filings that large magazines allow mass shooters to kill more people without having the forced delay of swapping out magazines more frequently, citing mass shootings such as the San Bernardino attack in 2016 that took the lives of 14 and wounded 22, and the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre in Connecticut that resulted in 28 dead.

He also argued that the government would not be confiscating the magazines, as the ultimate end of the magazines would be their destruction by the owner, or law enforcement agencies.

The AP also reported that a Sacramento-based judge on Thursday rejected a lawsuit similar to the one filed by the NRA. Ari Freilich, a staff attorney with the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said this has created "dueling opinions" that could be sorted out on appeal.

Regardless of the delay that Freilich called an NRA attempt “to delay and dismantle California’s law brick by brick,” Frielich said he is confident the law will soon go into effect.

Law enforcement officers, such as Shasta County Sheriff Tom Bosenko, told the Sacramento Bee that he looks negatively at this law and that he doesn't expect anyone to turn in their magazines, nor will he be sending his deputies out to confiscate them.

“We’re not going to be knocking on anybody’s door looking for them,” Bosenko said. “We’re essentially making law-abiding citizens into criminals with this new law.”

One last thing…
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