By Bob Egelko
A voter-approved gun-control law due to take effect Saturday, banning the possession of magazines that can hold more than 10 cartridges, was blocked Thursday by a federal judge, who said it would violate Californians' right to defend themselves.
"The right to bear arms includes the right to keep and carry ammunition and magazines holding more than 10 rounds for those arms, for both self-defense and to be ready to serve in a militia," U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez of San Diego said in issuing a statewide preliminary injunction against enforcement of the law.
"Disarming California's law-abiding citizens is not a constitutionally permissible policy choice," he said.
Hours earlier, another federal judge, William Shubb of Sacramento, had reached the opposite conclusion in a different lawsuit challenging the same law. But Benitez's injunction will bar implementation of the measure unless a higher court overrules him.
California already bans the sale of magazines carrying more than 10 cartridges. Proposition 63, a November 2016 ballot measure, went further by banning possession. It also included a first-in-the-nation requirement that background checks be done for buyers of firearms ammunition. That provision was not at issue in Thursday's ruling.
The state can appeal the ruling to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which in 2015allowed the city of Sunnyvale to enforce its own ban against magazines holding more than 10 cartridges. San Francisco has a similar prohibition that was allowed to take effect by a different federal judge.
But Benitez said the state failed to justify the need for a statewide ban. While Sunnyvale, with a low crime rate, may be a place where "a law-abiding citizen can make do with a maximum of 10 rounds," he said, the need may be greater in more dangerous communities and rural areas where police take longer to reach crime scenes.
Ari Freilich, an attorney at the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence and a supporter of Prop. 63, predicted that Benitez's ruling would be overturned on appeal.
"Every other federal court to look at the issue has decided large-capacity magazines are weapons of war," he said.
The lawsuit was filed by the California Rifle and Pistol Association, a state affiliate of the National Rifle Association, on behalf of five gun owners who did not want to relinquish their weapons. Prop. 63 would require them to sell the gun attachments to a licensed dealer, turn them over to police, or send them to another state.
The plaintiffs, Benitez said, are "law-abiding, responsible residents of California" who "will be deemed criminals" if they keep the weapons they legally acquired. He said they had shown a likelihood that Prop. 63 would amount to government confiscation of their property as well as interference with their right to self-defense.
The state's evidence that the weapons enable mass shootings was unconvincing, Benitez said. He said state lawyers had cited only two recent mass killings with high-capacity magazines in California, and both were committed by criminals who had obtained their weapons illegally and would not have been deterred by a ban on possessing them.
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