Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations
Watch Live

Public Safety

Appeals court reinstates ammo background check law struck down by San Diego judge

A person holds a rifle inside a gun shop in this undated photo.
Seth Perlman
A person holds a rifle inside a gun shop in this undated photo.

An appeals court has reinstated a state law requiring background checks for people purchasing ammunition, which was recently struck down by a San Diego federal judge.

A three-justice panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals voted 2- 1 on Monday to grant a request from the California Attorney General's Office to stay the judge's ruling.

U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez issued an injunction last week that found the law requiring background checks for nearly all ammo purchases was unconstitutional.


In a brief ruling, Judges Richard Clifton and Holly Thomas granted the stay, while Judge Consuelo Callahan dissented, writing she did "not believe appellant has met his burden of showing a likelihood of success on the merits or that irreparable injury will occur absent a stay."

California Attorney General Rob Bonta said in a statement Tuesday that "California's life-saving ammunition laws will remain in effect as we continue to defend them in court. With the proliferation of self-assembled, fully-functional, and unserialized 'ghost guns', these ammunition laws serve as a backstop to the use of firearms by prohibited persons. We have a long fight ahead, but today, we can breathe a bit easier knowing that our ammunition laws remain enforceable while we make our case in court and continue to defend laws that guard against gun violence in California."

The California Rifle & Pistol Association, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit at the heart of Benitez's ruling, said the appellate court "wiped out the lengthy, well-reasoned ruling issued by Judge Benitez negating the state's onerous restrictions on ammunition purchases."

Last Wednesday's ruling from Benitez marked the second time he has blocked the law in recent years.

The judge, who has frequently ruled in favor of firearm advocates seeking to overturn state laws governing guns and ammunition, took aim in his ruling at the state's background check system, which he called "cumbersome and Byzantine."


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.

KPBS has created a public safety coverage policy to guide decisions on what stories we prioritize, as well as whose narratives we need to include to tell complete stories that best serve our audiences. This policy was shaped through months of training with the Poynter Institute and feedback from the community. You can read the full policy here.