‘Constitutionally Defective’ – Judge’s Ruling in CA Ammo Case Eviscerates Law

A federal judge has ruled California’s background check requirement for purchasing ammunition violates the Second Amendment. (Dave Workman)

U.S.A.-(Ammoland.com)- Buried halfway through the 120-page ruling by U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez that California’s background check requirement for ammunition purchases violates the Second Amendment are five words that cut to the core of gun control laws across the country.

“Criminals don’t do background checks.”

The remark is on Page 69 of the Benitez ruling, which declares the California ammunition requirement “constitutionally defective,” and it is perhaps a fitting spot. It is at the middle—the core—of a ruling that will likely be appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court in San Francisco, but in the meantime Golden State gun owners are cheering, albeit cautiously.

The case is known as Rhode v. Becerra, named for the chief plaintiff, Olympic Gold Medalist and California resident Kim Rhode. The case was brought in response to Proposition 63, passed by California voters in 2016. The case was supported by the National Rifle Association and included several plaintiffs, both private citizens and businesses.

“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, National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action in a prepared statement. “The NRA funded this case for the same reason the court struck down the laws: enough was enough.”

The Associated Press quoted Hannah Shearer, litigation director for the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, calling the ruling “a dangerous step in the wrong direction.”

But attorney Chuck Michel, president of the California Rifle and Pistol Association, issued a statement (quoted by NBC News) with a polar opposite perspective: “This is a devastating blow to the anti-gun-owner advocates who falsely pushed Prop 63 in the name of safety. In truth, red tape and the state’s disastrous database errors made it impossible for hundreds of thousands of law-abiding Californians to purchase ammunition for sport or self-defense.”

Indeed, according to the Benitez ruling, “the burden is that 101,047 law-abiding citizens (plus an untold additional number who may have been discouraged by the clumsiness of the system) were unable to exercise their Second Amendment right to acquire ammunition for their firearms.” That notation is found on Page 66 of the ruling.

Most reports are focusing on the judge’s opening remark: “The experiment has been tried. The casualties have been counted. California’s new ammunition background check law misfires and the Second Amendment rights of California citizens have been gravely injured.”

But there is much more in Judge Benitez’ lengthy decision, and one must read carefully to find it all.

Benitez, the senior judge of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California in San Diego, is a George W. Bush appointee, taking office in June 2004. He ascended to the senior position on Dec. 31, 2017.

He is the same judge who ruled in a case that was recently argued before the Ninth Circuit declaring California’s ban on so-called “high capacity magazines” also violates the Second Amendment. That case is known as Duncan v. Becerra.

In Thursday’s ruling, Judge Benitez—who was born in Havana, Cuba 69 years ago—wrote on Page 52, “The majority of citizens who use common ammunition do so for lawful purposes, including self-defense. Under Heller and McDonald, that is all that is needed for citizens to have a right under the Second Amendment to acquire and keep common ammunition. Using the simple Heller test, it is obvious that the California background check laws that de facto completely block some law-abiding responsible citizens from buying common ammunition are unconstitutional. Under the simple Heller test, judicial review could end right here.” (Emphasis added.)

Three pages later, Judge Benitez says the California statutes “directly burden the Second Amendment right directly to its core, which is the right to defend one’s self, family, and home.”
Reading further, to Pages 65-66, the judge rakes California’s case with this observation:

“At this point, however, the government has done little more than simply posited the existence of the disease sought to be cured. And the cure, making it difficult for law-abiding citizens to acquire ammunition, is far worse than the disease. The government has certainly not demonstrated that the blanket background check system will cure any disease and alleviate harm in a direct and material way without unnecessarily burdening the rights of citizens.”

He also criticizes the “clumsiness” of California’s background check system that initially denied purchases to 770 people, of which some were later found to be “not prohibited persons at all.” Contrasting that number against the 101,047 mentioned earlier is one of the keys of the judge’s opinion.

Judge Benitez probably explains the problem best in a passage on Page 67, where he observes:

“This state experiment is a one-size-fits-all, one-of-a-kind approach with no legislative record. The State justifies the experiment upon little more than conjecture springing from three old studies: (1) an old study of Los Angeles recordkeeping law; (2) an old study of Sacramento recordkeeping law; and (3) the straw purchaser experience of the State of New Jersey…California’s background check for ammunition purchases is the first state experiment in the country. But it is not the first experiment. The federal Gun Control Act of 1968 required ammunition be sold by federally licensed firearm dealers who would maintain records of ammunition sales. The Gun Control Act also prohibited, like the new California anti-importation law, interstate mail-order ammunition sales. After 18 years of that experiment, Congress repealed the prohibition on mail-order sales and the ammunition purchase recordkeeping requirement in the Firearm Owners Protection Act of 1986. In support of the changes, the federal Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms and the Treasury Department said the ammunition recordkeeping had no substantial law enforcement value.”

Twenty pages later (Pages 88-89), as if to underscore what he had written, Judge Benitez refers to a more recent study in 2018 that was highlighted by the plaintiffs in their case.

“Observing that ‘we know little about the effectiveness of CBC [comprehensive background check] policies,’ the authors (of this newer study) recently set out to determine the impact of California’s background check system for purchasing firearms implemented in 1991. The study identified the rate of homicides and suicides from firearms during the ten years preceding the background check law and the ten years following. The conclusion is that the implementation of California’s firearm background check law had little or no effect on firearm-related homicide rates. ‘[T]he net difference during the 10 years post intervention was practically 0.’”

Four pages later, Judge Benitez notes, “To be clear, at this point in the case, the evidence does not fairly support the notion of Proposition 63 that background check and anti-importation provisions for ammunition acquisition will make the public safer.”

He hammers one more nail into the coffin on Page 95, and it might stand as a lesson to state governments everywhere, if his ruling is upheld.

“Government is not free to impose its own pure policy choices on American citizens where Constitutional rights are concerned. As Heller explains, the Second Amendment takes certain policy choices and removes them beyond the realm of state action.”



About Dave WorkmanDave Workman

Dave Workman is a senior editor at TheGunMag.com and Liberty Park Press, author of multiple books on the Right to Keep & Bear Arms and formerly an NRA-certified firearms instructor.

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Don
Don
1 year ago

His honor is a good man, but at 69 he is too old t be on SCOTUS. His life expectancy isn’t long enough. Too bad he isn’t 45 years old in superb health. We need more men like him.

MICHAEL J
MICHAEL J
1 year ago

Okay, I’ll try this again: I can’t celebrate yet until these vipers are shut down completely. Politicians and bureaucrats have unrestricted tax-payer resources to tie this up at the 9th circuit. Their audacity not to permanently accept a lower courts decision is proof our system is gamed, but should an outcome agree with their agendas then it’s okay and somehow it stands.
This case along with the magazine capacity, gun rosters etc. are ongoing examples of infringement and I continually ask, who are these treasonous people and how can we remove them for not upholding our Constitution?

Big George
Big George
1 year ago

Unfortunately, two of my ammo orders were canceled because of Commiefornia’s AG petitioned for an emergency stay on his ruling. The stay was NOT granted, but because this POS State pulled another fast one and submitted their request late Friday night, most of the places who were shipping ammo here only heard about the stay request, and NOT that it had been denied! I’ve been playing email ‘tag’ with several vendors over this issue trying to convince them to ship! I have to hand it to these liberaturds…they DO know how to play dirty, don’t they?! But, we WILL WIN… Read more »

KDad
KDad
1 year ago

Judge Benitez deserves a spot on the US Supreme Court.

Rattlerjake
Rattlerjake
1 year ago
Reply to  KDad

Sounds like it, but one good decision doesn’t make him worthy if he has other decisions that are more liberal.

mlhtd51
mlhtd51
1 year ago

WHEN ALL THE Guns Have Been Banned, Words Have Been Censored, History Has Been Erased, Freedom Has Been Taken, ONLY THEN Will You Discover Why Our “RIGHT TO BEAR ARMS” Was So High On The List.

nobodyuknow
nobodyuknow
1 year ago

Thank you, your Honor! You are a credit to the bench! Well past time to begin reigning in The Peoples Republik of Kalifornia! The verging on Communist government of California needs to be brought into – or even SLAPPED into – line with the Constitution of the United States!

Doszap
Doszap
1 year ago

Everyoe needs to email U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez,and THANK HIM FOR REMAINING a honest Judge and a strict Constitutionalist.He has saved Cali shooters bacon several times.
I would love to meet him, and I am Texan.

Rattlerjake
Rattlerjake
1 year ago
Reply to  Doszap

So did you vote for lyin’ Ted Cruz, the proud illegal alien senator from TX? Texans insist on protecting Cruz because he seems to support the Constitution, except of course when violating it means possible being elected POTUS!

Wild Bill
Wild Bill
1 year ago
Reply to  Rattlerjake

@Rattler, Ted Cruz is a derivative USC, pursuant to the 1956 immigration act, through his USC mother. What lie(s) do you allege that Cruz said?

Wild Bill
Wild Bill
1 year ago
Reply to  Doszap

@Dos, A novel idea. I like it. Got an address?

Dubi Loo
Dubi Loo
1 year ago

It lasted all of 2 days before the Ninth Circus ordered a stay.

nobodyuknow
nobodyuknow
1 year ago
Reply to  Dubi Loo

Dubi Loo . . . Yeah. But it is headed for the Supreme Court and I fully believe that The Peoples Republik of Kalifornia will get slapped back in line in that venue!

Knute
Knute
1 year ago
Reply to  nobodyuknow

Nobody) It won’t matter. If they do, Kalifornia will just change a comma or two, pass that, and restart the whole circus over again… ad infinitum. That’s what they’ve been doing for as long as I’ve been alive. No reason to think anything will change now. Just keep watching. You’ll see.
Nothing will change until force is applied. Criminal’s do not change their spots without they get forced to.

LAbill
LAbill
1 year ago
Reply to  Big George

The stay from Judge Benitez against his OWN ruling was denied by him, yes. BUT, just HOURS LATER, the CA Attorney General got the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to issue a stay on Judge Benitez’s ruling. So it’s back to unconstitutional tyranny in CA.

Agreed, Benitez is a Constitutional hero, and I’d be delighted if he ended up on the Supreme Court. But in the meantime, he’s doing damned good work in CA.

Rattlerjake
Rattlerjake
1 year ago
Reply to  Big George

“And the very next day (the 25th.) the 9th. Circus issued an emergency stay, overruling Judge Benitez”

Ryben Flynn
Ryben Flynn
1 year ago

And the very next day (the 25th.) the 9th. Circus issued an emergency stay, overruling Judge Benitez.

katherinepdix52
katherinepdix52
1 year ago

Twenty pages later (Pages 88-89), as if to underscore what he had written, Judge Benitez refers to a more recent study in 2018 that was highlighted by the plaintiffs in their case.

Luv2shoot
Luv2shoot
1 year ago

Finally a judge that knows what he’s talking about and obeys the Constitution!

katherinepdix52
katherinepdix52
1 year ago
Reply to  Luv2shoot

Interesting and replaced

Green Mtn. Boy
Green Mtn. Boy
1 year ago

When the state of Commiefornia asked him to stay his decision he gave the state his middle finger. Judge Roger A. Benitez for U S Supreme Court Justice,in fact demote the current weakest link to a originalist court and make him Chief Justice.

reno
reno
1 year ago
Reply to  Green Mtn. Boy

yes, Roberts should be replaced

katherinepdix52
katherinepdix52
1 year ago
Reply to  Green Mtn. Boy

The power to decide on a case-by-case basis whether the right is really worth insisting upon

nobodyuknow
nobodyuknow
1 year ago
Reply to  Green Mtn. Boy

Green Mtn. Boy . . . . I fully agree with your statement. Particularly your Chief Justice Comment!

Superman
Superman
1 year ago

You are nuttier than a warehouse full of pecans.

hippybiker
hippybiker
1 year ago
Reply to  Superman

Now, Cluck Can’t is a Doctor. You’re so special, aren’t you!

Heed the Call-up
Heed the Call-up
1 year ago
Reply to  hippybiker

Hippy, yes, supe’s diagnosis of USA is obviously wrong, but so is USA’s post. I researched his link and the claim about the cure to cancer is not valid, studies have shown it does not cure cancer, longevity may increase, but the prognosis doesn’t change.

George
George
1 year ago

The ruling is actually a good read. He tears the law apart in clear language.

Oh, and Giffords doesn’t like it. Noted. You hate us. Noted. Move on.

Green Mtn. Boy
Green Mtn. Boy
1 year ago

Leftist’s Never Learn.

MagnumOpUS
MagnumOpUS
1 year ago
Reply to  Green Mtn. Boy

But they also never give up, so we patriots must never get complacent and let our guards down.

Like the seasonal flu, they keep coming back, except in different strains, i.e. guises, but more frequently than yearly.

badlands
badlands
1 year ago
Reply to  MagnumOpUS

Yep. Although the 2nd Amendment couldn’t be any more clear, sadly year after year and decade after decade we fight these battles non-stop. Somehow it has to end.