Explore The NRA Universe Of Websites

APPEARS IN Legal & Legislation

Appellate Court Affirms Unconstitutionality of California Ammunition Controls

Friday, November 8, 2013

To follow up on an earlier NRA report, on November 6, California's Court of Appeals upheld a lower court decision invalidating a California law that threatened to limit access to, and compel recordkeeping for, ammunition sales.   

The law, enacted as part of Assembly Bill No. 962, sought to impose onerous restrictions on the sale, delivery, and transfer of "handgun ammunition," with criminal penalties for noncompliance.  With some exceptions, it banned mail-order sales by requiring that the delivery or transfer take place through face-to-face transactions, with "bona fide evidence of identity" from the purchaser.  The purchaser also had to provide the vendor with a date of birth, address, telephone number, driver's license number, signature, and a right thumbprint.  This information, along with the brand, type, and amount of ammunition sold, and the salesperson's name, would have to be maintained as a record by the vendor for five years.

However, the key sticking point was Cal. Penal Code § 16650(a), which defined "handgun ammunition" as "ammunition principally for use in pistols, revolvers, and other firearms capable of being concealed upon the person, notwithstanding that the ammunition may also be used in some rifles."  Another section defined pistols, revolvers, and concealable firearms exclusively by reference to barrel length or barrel interchangeability design--specifically, as those with a barrel less than 16 inches long.

The lead plaintiff, Clay Parker, the Tehama County Sheriff, was joined by the NRA, the California Rifle and Pistol Association (CRPA), and several others in a lawsuit that alleged these definitions, in the absence of any standard that further clarified the term "principally for use," created insurmountable ambiguities that made it impossible for an ordinary, reasonable person to comply with the law. Virtually all calibers of ammunition could be used safely in both rifles and handguns, and the use standard could be interpreted (or not) to mean only California users, or civilian users, or by reference to the ammunition market at any given time.  They brought a facial challenge to the criminal law, claiming it was void for vagueness under the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment (in plain English, that the law, as written, failed to give fair warning of the conduct that was prohibited, and lacked sufficiently definite guidelines to prevent arbitrary or discriminatory enforcement by the police).

Significantly, the evidence before the court on what constituted "handgun ammunition" was inconsistent, and in many instances, was simply based on the person's personal experience; the State's expert categorically excluded all .22-caliber ammunition, citing a need for "further research and analysis".  Unsurprisingly, no expert was able to reference an industry standard or a universally accepted definition.  The trial court, finding the law lacked any objective means by which an ordinary citizen or ammunition vendor could determine which ammunition was most likely to be used in handguns, and standards that protected citizens from the personal judgment call of each individual law enforcement officer, declared the challenged provisions were constitutionally invalid and enjoined their enforcement.

On appeal, California's Fifth Appellate District Court agreed.  What raised the stakes was that the law subjected persons to criminal liability, and clearly implicated a "substantial amount" of constitutionally protected conduct, both individual rights under the Second Amendment (which included the right to acquire ammunition for one's firearms), and the vendors' Fourteenth Amendment right to engage in legitimate business activity.  The court found persuasive the fact that several firearms users, vendors with different backgrounds, and experts had testified in the case, and "none shared the same understanding of what is meant by the notion of ammunition 'principally for use' in handguns."  All of these persons had some level of specialized knowledge, which raised the question of how ordinary citizens--also bound by the transfer of "handgun ammunition" requirements--would be expected to successfully identify what was covered by the law.

The State's argument--that it was no secret that certain ammunition cartridges were more often used in handguns than in rifles--was too much of a hit-and-miss standard.  "In the absence of baseline standards, the classification of interchangeable calibers and cartridges as 'handgun ammunition" may be … a moving target."  The court recognized the legal ambiguity as to what was "handgun ammunition" would have likely forced vendors, particularly mail-order and Internet sellers, to curtail ammunition sales, or make sales at the risk of criminal liability, resulting in ammunition being unavailable, or available at a greatly increased cost, to individuals in rural or remote areas.  The lack of statutory guidance also effectively conferred discretion on individual police officers to interpret the law as each saw fit, leading to selective or haphazard enforcement.

This decision marks an important victory for California's beleaguered gun owners.  It ensures (at least for now) that they will remain free from the law's onerous and burdensome requirements, while also highlighting the half-hazard and ill-considered thinking that underlies California gun control agenda.

A copy of the court's ruling is available here

TRENDING NOW
“I Did That!” Biden’s Gas Crisis Creates Public Safety Crisis

News  

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

“I Did That!” Biden’s Gas Crisis Creates Public Safety Crisis

The Biden Administration is serious about making it more difficult for responsible citizens to exercise their gun rights, which is hardly surprising from the most anti-Second Amendment president in history. What is less obvious is ...

SCOTUS Reverses and Remands Two NRA-ILA Backed Magazine Cases

News  

Thursday, June 30, 2022

SCOTUS Reverses and Remands Two NRA-ILA Backed Magazine Cases

One week after our landmark victory in NYSRPA v. Bruen, the Supreme Court issued orders in two other NRA-ILA backed cases. Those cases, ANJRPC v. Bruck and Duncan v. Bonta, challenge New Jersey and California laws that ban magazines capable ...

California: Legislature Passes and Newsom Signs Anti-Gun Bills

Friday, July 1, 2022

California: Legislature Passes and Newsom Signs Anti-Gun Bills

The California Legislature starts their Summer recess today, but not before a busy week full of defiant action against the recent Supreme Court victory in the NRA case of NYSRPA v. Bruen. The legislature passed several anti-gun ...

New Jersey:  Despite Historic Supreme Court Ruling Gun Bills Advance in Trenton

Friday, July 1, 2022

New Jersey: Despite Historic Supreme Court Ruling Gun Bills Advance in Trenton

On the heels of last week’s landmark Supreme Court decision in NYSRPA v. Bruen, Majority Democrats in Trenton doubled down on even more Second Amendment infringements by passing yet another package of gun bills.  This is ...

A Century of Opposition to New York’s Sullivan Law

News  

Tuesday, July 5, 2022

A Century of Opposition to New York’s Sullivan Law

On June 23, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down New York’s discretionary carry licensing regime as a violation of the Second Amendment right to bear arms in the NRA-backed case NYSRPA v. Bruen. The law at ...

California Leaks Personal Data of Carry Permit Holders

News  

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

California Leaks Personal Data of Carry Permit Holders

On Monday June 27, California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced the launch of the California Department of Justice (DOJ)’s Firearms Dashboard Portal. The data tool was designed to give granular firearm transaction and Concealed Carry Weapons (CCW) permit ...

New York:  Majority Democrats Vote in Lockstep to Defy the United States Supreme Court

Friday, July 1, 2022

New York: Majority Democrats Vote in Lockstep to Defy the United States Supreme Court

Anti-Second Amendment politicians returned to Albany late this week and did the bidding of Gov. Kathy Hochul.  She called the Legislature back into an “extraordinary” session this week.  The session was anything but extraordinary. Lawmakers ...

The Dominoes Begin to Fall: NJ Amends Permit Rules After Bruen

News  

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

The Dominoes Begin to Fall: NJ Amends Permit Rules After Bruen

New Jersey’s acting Attorney General, Matthew J. Platkin, issued a directive “clarifying requirements for carrying firearms in public” a day after the historic ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in New York State Rifle & Pistol Assoc. v. ...

NRA-ILA Asks Court to Stop the California DOJ From Releasing Gun Owners’ Personal Information After Massive Data Leak.

Thursday, June 30, 2022

NRA-ILA Asks Court to Stop the California DOJ From Releasing Gun Owners’ Personal Information After Massive Data Leak.

Earlier this week, California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced that he would be releasing firearms data via the California DOJ’s Firearms Dashboard Portal. That data contained gun owners’ names, dates of birth, gender, race, driver’s license numbers, addresses, and criminal ...

North Carolina: Carry Permit Training Bill Going to Senate Floor

Thursday, June 30, 2022

North Carolina: Carry Permit Training Bill Going to Senate Floor

Today, the Senate pulled House Bill 49 from the Committee on Rules and Operations and will send it to the floor for final passage. It requires sheriffs to waive the training requirement for former concealed carry permit ...

MORE TRENDING +
LESS TRENDING -

More Like This From Around The NRA

NRA ILA

Established in 1975, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) is the "lobbying" arm of the National Rifle Association of America. ILA is responsible for preserving the right of all law-abiding individuals in the legislative, political, and legal arenas, to purchase, possess and use firearms for legitimate purposes as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.