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San Diego judge again strikes down California law on background check for ammo buys

In this June 11, 2019, file photo, Chris Puehse, owner of Foothill Ammo, displays .45-caliber ammunition for sale at his store in Shingle Springs, Calif.
Rich Pedroncelli
In this June 11, 2019, file photo, Chris Puehse, owner of Foothill Ammo, displays .45-caliber ammunition for sale at his store in Shingle Springs, Calif.

A San Diego federal judge Wednesday again blocked a state law requiring background checks for people purchasing ammunition.

U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez, who previously struck down the law in 2020, ruled Wednesday that the state's restrictions violate the Second Amendment and in his 32-page written ruling took aim at the state's background check system, which he called "cumbersome and byzantine."

Benitez ruled on the case a second time due to the Supreme Court's ruling in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen, which altered the standard by which firearms-related cases could be analyzed. That decision, which holds that gun laws should be consistent with the nation's historical firearm regulations, has resulted in a number of cases sent back to the lower courts for reanalysis.


Benitez, who has frequently ruled in favor of firearm advocates seeking to overturn state laws governing guns and ammunition, wrote in his latest ruling that "the ammunition background checks laws have no historical pedigree."

The judge also wrote that voters initially approved a background check system in 2016 that would have had prospective ammo purchasers buying a permit that would be valid for four years. Benitez wrote that the bill was amended before Election Day to require background checks for each and every ammo purchase, a change he said occurred for reasons that are "not apparent."

Benitez also said that due to technical errors and other issues, the system has denied ammo purchases to law-abiding citizens at a high rate.

The California Attorney General's Office said it would seek an immediate stay of the judge's decision.

"These laws were put in place as a safeguard and a way of protecting the people of California — and they work," Attorney General Rob Bonta said in a statement. "We will move quickly to correct this dangerous mistake. We will not stop in our efforts to protect the safety of communities, and Californians' rights to go about their business without fear of becoming victims of gun violence, while at the same time respecting the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding gun owners."


The lawsuit at the heart of the ruling was filed on behalf of Olympic shooter Kim Rhode.

Chuck Michel, president of the California Rifle & Pistol Association and general counsel in the case, said the ruling represents "a sea change in the way courts must look at these absurdly restrictive laws. Sure, the state will appeal, but the clock is ticking on laws that violate the Constitution."

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