In a decision made public on Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez in San Diego said the background checks have “no historical pedigree,” and violate the Second Amendment by treating all citizens as having no right to buy ammunition.
“A sweeping background check requirement imposed every time a citizen needs to buy ammunition is an outlier that our ancestors would have never accepted for a citizen,” wrote Benitez.
The law, which took effect in 2019, “treats all citizens as if they do not enjoy a right to buy ammunition. It forces Americans to entreat and supplicate the state for permission,” U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez of San Diego wrote Tuesday in a ruling that halts enforcement of the law.
Benitez had blocked enforcement once before, in 2020, but the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated the law a day later while considering the state’s appeal. The case remained on hold until 2022, when the court returned the case to Benitez to reconsider under a Supreme Court ruling that placed new limits on the government’s authority to regulate firearms.
The ruling was praised by Chuck Michel, president and general counsel of the California Rifle & Pistol Association, a National Rifle Association affiliate that challenged the state law.
“This law, like most of California’s gun control laws, has not made anyone safer,” Michel said. “But it has made it much more difficult and expensive for law-abiding gun owners to exercise their Second Amendment right to defend themselves and their family, and has blocked many eligible people from getting the ammunition they need.”
Benitez was appointed by President George W. Bush in 2004. His first significant gun ruling was in 2017, when he blocked enforcement of the state’s ban on possessing guns with high-capacity magazines, a law that was reinstated by the 9th Circuit but is being reconsidered under the Supreme Court’s new standards. Since 2017, the NRA and its allies have filed challenges to state gun laws in the San Diego federal court, and Benitez has agreed to hear them as cases “related” to his 2017 ruling.
After Benitez overturned one of the gun laws in 2021, Gov. Gavin Newsom described the judge as a “stone-cold ideologue … a wholly owned subsidiary of the gun lobby.”
A separate state law requires gun purchasers to undergo checks of their criminal records and any other potentially disqualifying factors before acquiring firearms. California’s voters approved a ballot measure in 2016 requiring background checks for ammunition buyers every four years, but the Legislature passed a law mandating the checks before each ammunition purchase.
Customers who have previously bought ammunition can simply show their driver’s license or other identification, pay a dollar for an automated background check and have it completed within minutes. First-time buyers often must pay $19 and wait several days for clearance.
Benitez said about 1 million ammunition background checks are conducted each year in the state and 11% are rejected, a rate he said was excessive.
“Today, a person may choose to submit to a full credit check to buy an automobile,” the judge wrote. “But he is not required to pass the same credit check every time he needs to refill his car with gas or recharge his battery at a charging station. And the Constitution does not mention a right to own automobiles.”