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California Judge Blocks Ban On High-Capacity Magazines

| by Selena Darlim

A federal judge in California blocked a state law that would have barred gun owners from owning high-capacity ammunition magazines, which was set to take effect on July 1.

The judge issued a preliminary injunction on June 29 that blocks the law from taking effect while he reviews a California Rifle & Pistol Association-backed lawsuit filed by five residents, Reuters reports.

Though ammunition magazines capable of carrying more than 10 rounds have been illegal in California since 2000, gun owners who had already possessed them have been allowed to keep them, according to The Associated Press. A law passed by California voters and Legislature would have changed that.  

The law, passed under California's Proposition 63, would require gun-owners to either alter their magazines to hold less than 10 rounds or give them up entirely, regardless of when they had been purchased. Violators would face a fine of $100 per magazine and up to one year in jail. The law does have some exceptions, such as for retired police officers or for movie actors using them as props.

The judge who issued the injunction, San Diego-based District Judge Roger Benitez, argues that the law violates citizens' Second Amendment rights and allows the government to take private property without compensation.

“Hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of otherwise law-abiding citizens will have an untenable choice: become an outlaw or dispossess one’s self of lawfully acquired property,” Benitez wrote in a 66-page court ruling, according to AP. “[Gun owner's rights] are not eliminated simply because they possess ‘unpopular’ magazines holding more than 10 rounds."

Gun control has been a fiercely debated topic in the U.S. Supporters of California gun control have cited incidents such as the 2015 mass shooting that occurred at a holiday party in San Bernardino as reasons for stricter laws, Reuters reports.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra is tasked with defending Prop 63.

Becerra argues that magazines are not specifically covered by the Second Amendment and they they do play a role in some of the most deadly gun-related crimes. According to Becerra, seven states and 11 local governments also restrict the possession or sale of high-capacity magazines, AP notes.

"Restricting large-capacity magazines and preventing them from ending up in the wrong hands is critical for the well-being of our communities," Becerra said, according to Reuters.

Becerra argued in his court order that smaller magazines have the benefit of slowing down shooters, thereby giving victims more time to escape or take down the assailant, AP reports. It is not yet known whether Becerra plans to appeal the judge's ruling at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.  

While legal proceedings are not yet certain, supporters and critics of Benitez's ruling have spoken up.

Amanda Wilcox, speaking for the California chapters of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, said possessing high-capacity magazines "escalates the lethality in any mass shooting.”

Reuters reports that Wilcox's daughter was once fatally shot.

Meanwhile, the California Rifle and Pistol Association, part of the National Rifle Association, praised the ruling.

"Law abiding gun owners have a right to choose to have these magazines to help them defend themselves and their families," said Chuck Michel, the lawyer for those challenging Prop 63.

In a separate and unrelated hearing on June 29, a Sacramento-based federal judge rejected to file a preliminary injunction for a lawsuit against Prop 63. The judge later criticized Benitez' ruling as part of the NRA's effort “to delay and dismantle California’s law brick by brick,” AP News reports.

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