California: Ammunition Background Check Invalidated in Court

Contact: Aoibheann Cline, Western States Coordinator

On April 23, a federal court in California put a halt to California’s ammunition background check requirements declaring, “Accordingly, the Court enjoins the State of California from enforcing the ammunition sales background check provisions” found in the California Penal Code. The Court’s grant of this injunction is a strong win for all California sportsmen and women because the ammunition sales restrictions will prevent the State of California from enforcing the ammunition sales background checks through its now enjoined onerous and flawed system as the Rhode v. Becerra case continues to be litigated.

“This is a huge victory for California gun owners. Though we have several lawsuits pending at this time, none in my opinion are as important as Rhode v. Becerra. This case impacts every gun owner in California and establishes a precedent for California law makers to learn to respect federal law,” said Roy Griffith, Legislative Director of California Rifle and Pistol Association.

In 2016, California enacted and amended a lengthy list of laws that placed sweeping restrictions on the purchase, sale, transfer and importation of ammunition through Proposition 63, the “Safety for All Act,” and its counterpart Senate Bill 1235 in the 2016-2017 legislative session. The ammunition background check provisions went into effect in a phased approach between 2018 and 2019. The legal battle over the enforcement of the California ammunition background check requirements started on April 26, 2018 when the California Rifle and Pistol Association (CRPA), filed a complaint for declaratory and injunctive relief from the state’s overreaching laws, in violation of the Second Amendment and the Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution.

When the background check requirements went into effect in 2019, many hunters in California found themselves a situation where they were unable to obtain ammunition in preparation for hunting seasons due to the “onerous and convoluted” regulations that resulted from these laws. Recreational shooters were also negatively impacted.

United States District Court Judge Benitez began his order granting the injunction by stating, “California’s new ammunition background check law misfires and the Second Amendment rights of California citizens have been gravely injured.” While the victory and strong legal language favors sportsmen and women’s constitutional right to firearms and access to ammunition, the injunction is expected to be appealed.”

On behalf of all hunters, recreational shooters, and all sportsmen and women, the Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) would like to express our gratitude to CRPA for bringing forth this legal challenge, and thank the co-plaintiffs in the lawsuit - Ammunition Depot, Able Ammo, Shooter’s Emporium and CSF partner, NRA-ILA, for strengthening the case’s ability to move forward. 

"As the court said, 'The right to keep and bear arms is the insurance policy behind the right to life... a shield from the tyranny of the majority.' California wasn’t just obstructing the people’s fundamental right to defend their families and lives—it was encouraging unlawful hostility toward an individual, Constitutional right," said Jason Ouimet, Executive Director of the National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action. "The NRA funded this case for the same reason the court struck down the laws: Enough was enough.” ​

Following the grant of the injunction, Attorney General of the State of California, Xavier Becerra, filed an emergency motion for stay of the injunction which was granted by the Court on April 24. This means the ammunition background check laws will be temporarily enforced again, pending further court orders on appeal by the State of California. 

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A key component of the American System of Conservation Funding, the Pittman- Robertson Act directs excise taxes on firearms, ammo, and archery equipment to wildlife conservation. Since its inception in 1937 the Act has generated more than $12 billion towards conservation. However, there has been a loss of 5 million hunters in the past decade. One proposed solution to help fund conservation is to dedicate lottery proceeds for conservation purposes. Would you support this effort in your state?

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