September 22, 2023
California’s gun owners have seen yet another critical Second Amendment case go their way, with a district court judge on Sept. 22 striking down the state’s restrictive ban on standard capacity firearms magazines. In the case Duncan v. Bonta, District Judge Robert Benitez, ruled that the 2016 law limiting detachable firearms magazines for handguns and rifles to be unconstitutional as it infringes on California gun owners’ Second Amendment Rights.
Firearms News readers will likely recognize Judge Benitez’s name and already be familiar with some of the history of this case. Way back in 2017 Judge Benitez struck down the ban, which outlaws magazines that hold more than 10 rounds, as being unconstitutional. Later, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturned that ruling. The case later made it to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the court never chose to hear it. After last year’s critical decision in New York Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, the high court vacated the ruling and remanded it for reconsideration. In the latest ruling, Judge Benitez did, indeed, put the new process prescribed by the Supreme Court in the Bruen ruling to work in deciding the case.
“This case is about a California state law that makes it a crime to keep and bear common firearm magazines typically possessed for lawful purposes,” Benitez wrote in the opinion. “Based on the text, history and tradition of the Second Amendment, this law is clearly unconstitutional.”
In the opinion, Judge Benitez made some compelling points that those on the other side of the gun-control debate likely didn’t want to hear.
“The State denies a citizen the federal constitutional right to use common weapons of their own choosing for self-defense,” Benitez wrote. “There have been, and there will be, times where many more than 10 rounds are needed to stop attackers. Yet, under this statute, the State says, ‘too bad.’
“It says, if you think you need more than 10 chances to defend yourself against criminal attackers, you must carry more magazines. Or carry more bullets to hand reload and fumble into your small magazine while the attackers take advantage of your pause. On the other hand, you can become a criminal, too.”
Benitez further picked apart a few of the other arguments made by the state in its defense of the law.
“Notwithstanding that the Second Amendment protects the right to ‘keep and bear,’ the State’s more troubling argument is that magazines holding more than 10 rounds are not being used for self-defense,” Judge Benitez wrote. “By ‘used,’ the State means actually fired. The State asserts, ‘there is no evidence that LCMs are frequently used in self-defense.’ Continuing, the State asserts, ‘[t]o the contrary, the record reflects that it is exceedingly rare for an individual, in a self-defense situation, to fire more than 10 rounds.’ But without conceding the accuracy of the State’s position, infrequent use or ‘exceedingly rare’ is not the same as never.”
Benitez concluded the opinion by writing, “One government solution to a few mad men with guns is a law that makes into criminals responsible, law-abiding people wanting larger magazines simply to protect themselves. The history and tradition of the Second Amendment clearly supports state laws against the use or misuse of firearms with unlawful intent, but not the disarmament of the law-abiding citizen. That kind of a solution is an infringement on the Constitutional right of citizens to keep and bear arms.”
While Judge Benitez’s ruling and reasoning were welcomed, it’s frustrating to many on the pro-gun side of the argument that judges continue to link the need for standard capacity magazines solely to domestic crimes. They should also be referring to citizens’ defense against government tyranny should the need ever arise as a justification for such magazines, as well as the possible need by citizens to protect the nation from foreign invasion sometime in the future.
To nobody’s surprise, California Attorney General Rob Bonta quickly filed a notice that the state would appeal the ruling.
“We will continue to fight for our authority to keep Californians safe from weapon enhancements designed to cause mass casualties,” Bonta said in a press release announcing the appeal. “The Supreme Court was clear that Bruen did not create a regulatory straitjacket for states—and we believe that the district court got this wrong.”
As so often happens in Second Amendment cases, the California government will be using state gun owners’ own tax dollars to fight against their right to keep and bear arms.
About the Author
Freelance writer and editor Mark Chesnut is the owner/editorial director at Red Setter Communications LLC. An avid hunter, shooter and political observer, he has been covering Second Amendment issues and politics on a near-daily basis for nearly 25 years.
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