A judge in Southern California struck down a California gun control law Friday that Gov. Gavin Newsom championed three years ago, ruling that the ban on high-capacity magazines is unconstitutional.
In response to “a few mad men with guns and ammunition,” California’s law “turns millions of responsible, law-abiding people trying to protect themselves into criminals,” U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez wrote in his decision on Duncan v. Becerra.
“Individual liberty and freedom are not outmoded concepts,” Benitez wrote.
Voters passed the ban in 2016 via Proposition 63, a gun control measure backed by now-Gov. Newsom. It outlawed possession of magazines holding more than 10 rounds. The law has not yet been enforced because of legal challenges.
That initiative also included background checks for ammunition purchases, reporting requirements for lost firearms and new legal procedures for confiscating guns from those prohibited from owning them.
In his decision, Benitez detailed several accounts of people defending themselves against home invasions who ran out of ammunition while shooting at intruders. He implied they could have benefited from high-capacity magazines.
Newsom criticized the ruling in a statement Friday evening.
“This District Court Judge’s failure to uphold a ban on high-capacity magazines is indefensible, dangerous for our communities and contradicts well-established case law,” Newsom said. “Our commitment to public safety and defending common sense gun safety laws remains steadfast.”
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra’s office released a measured statement after Benitez handed down the ruling.
“We are committed to defending California’s common sense gun laws – we are reviewing the decision and will evaluate next steps,” Becerra’s office said.
The National Rifle Association cheered the ruling, saying Benitez “handed Second Amendment supporters a sweeping victory.” In a statement, the group said the decision leaves law-abiding Californians “safer and freer, at least for the time being.”
Benitez’s critique of the law sought to balance citizens’ rights to defend themselves against rapes and robberies with the state’s effort to reduce the risk of mass shootings and protect law enforcement officers.
He found the state’s argument to be abstract. “At this level of generality, these interests can justify any law and virtually any restriction,” he wrote.
Benitez also discussed the Second Amendment, which protects the right to posses firearms. He characterized it as a “check on tyranny.”
“This decision is a freedom calculus decided long ago by Colonists who cherished individual freedom more than the subservient security of a British ruler. The freedom they fought for was not free of cost then, and it is not free now,” he wrote.