Every now and then the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals — arguably the nation’s most progressive federal circuit — can offer up a legal surprise. Yesterday, it gave us a legal shock, when a divided panel of its judges affirmed last year’s federal district-court injunction temporarily blocking enforcement of California’s confiscatory ban on so-called large-capacity magazines.
Under California law, any person who possesses a legally purchased magazine capable of holding more than ten rounds of ammunition must either remove the magazine from the state, sell it to a licensed firearm dealer, or hand it over to law enforcement. Those citizens who retained their magazines after the law went into effect risked a fine or up to one year’s imprisonment in county jail.
The district court’s 66-page opinion was a legal tour-de-force that not only dismantled California’s justifications for the ban, but also reiterated and reinforced the constitutional and historical basis for the right to keep and bear arms. As I wrote last year, this paragraph from the district-court opinion is nearly-perfect:
Violent gun use is a constitutionally-protected means for law-abiding citizens to protect themselves from criminals. The phrase “gun violence” may not be invoked as a talismanic incantation to justify any exercise of state power. Implicit in the concept of public safety is the right of law-abiding people to use firearms and the magazines that make them work to protect themselves, their families, their homes, and their state against all armed enemies, foreign and domestic. To borrow a phrase, it would indeed be ironic if, in the name of public safety and reducing gun violence, statutes were permitted to subvert the public’s Second Amendment rights — which may repel criminal gun violence and which ultimately ensure the safety of the Republic.
Lest anyone think that the Ninth Circuit has suddenly discovered the original meaning of the Second Amendment, its ruling upholding the district-court injunction was limited. It merely held that the trial court didn’t abuse its discretion when it temporarily blocked enforcement of the law. But despite the limited holding, there was encouraging rhetoric in the court’s ruling.