This past Friday, a significant legal development unfolded in California as a federal judge overruled the state’s restriction on gun magazines, which had limited them to 10 rounds. This ruling was based on the assertion that the law violated the Constitution. Concurrently, President Joe Biden expressed his support for reinstating the ban on “assault weapons” and advocated for the allowance of only low-capacity magazines. Gun control and the Second Amendment are both the subject of ongoing national debate.
The decision by U.S. District Court Judge Roger Benitez was heavily influenced by a Supreme Court verdict from 2022: New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen. The Supreme Court had emphasized that state-level gun control measures must align with the Second Amendment’s textual essence, enriched by its historical backdrop.
The focal point of this case was a California statute that criminalized the possession and use of standard firearm magazines, which are ordinarily owned for lawful purposes. In his ruling, Judge Benitez underscored that the California law was unequivocally unconstitutional based on the Second Amendment’s text, history, and tradition.
He elaborated on the evolution of firearm technology, emphasizing how detachable magazines addressed the historical challenge of ammunition scarcity during confrontations. The judge pointed out that larger magazines are essential when more ammunition is needed, a sentiment shared by many gun owners who prefer having more than ten rounds ready in their firearms.
Judge Benitez also highlighted the widespread prevalence of magazines with capacities exceeding ten rounds, noting popular handguns and rifles often come with 17 and 30-round magazines, respectively. He cited the Glock 17 handgun, a standard 17-round magazine, as an example.
In his critique of California’s 10-round limit, Benitez argued that the restriction lacked historical precedent and was arbitrary. He refuted California’s justification for the limit, stating that such determinations should be the prerogative of the citizens, not the state.
Drawing on historical instances, Benitez emphasized that there had never been a scenario where the government deemed certain firearms unsuitable due to their ammunition capacity. He stressed that such choices have always been, and should remain, within the purview of the citizens. Benitez wrote, “There is no American tradition of limiting ammunition capacity, and the 10-round limit has no historical pedigree, and it is arbitrary and capricious.”
The judge further elaborated on the integral role of removable magazines in semi-automatic firearms, asserting that they fall within the Second Amendment’s protection. He dismissed any historical or traditional basis for regulating firearms based on their ammunition capacity or the amount of ammunition one could possess and carry.
Benitez contended that transforming law-abiding citizens into criminals for wanting larger magazines for self-protection was a flawed governmental approach. He acknowledged that while the Second Amendment supports state laws against the misuse of firearms with malicious intent, it does not endorse the disarmament of law-abiding citizens.
On the flip side of the debate, President Biden’s call for a renewed ban on “assault weapons” and high-capacity magazines rekindles memories of the 1990s’ assault weapons ban, which had similarly restricted magazines to 10 rounds.
In his announcement, Biden also unveiled the establishment of the White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention, to be spearheaded by Vice President Kamala Harris. His remarks underscored a broader national endeavor to curb gun violence, albeit amidst a complex legal and constitutional landscape.