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California: Lawsuit Filed Challenging Sunnyvale Ban on Possession of Standard Capacity Firearm Magazines

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Several Sunnyvale residents have filed a lawsuit supported by the National Rifle Association, challenging the City’s recent ban on the possession of magazines capable of holding more than ten rounds.  The federal, Second Amendment-based legal challenge is part of a campaign of nationwide litigation filed and supported by a variety of individuals, civil rights groups, and law enforcement officers and associations.  The coordinated lawsuits seek to confirm that the Second Amendment protects these common standard-capacity magazines for self-defense and sporting purposes.

Firearms equipped with magazines capable of holding more than ten rounds have been around for nearly two centuries.  Today, these firearms are possessed by millions of law-abiding citizens for a variety of lawful purposes, including self-defense.  And the U.S. Supreme Court has affirmed that self-defense is the “central component” of the Second Amendment.

As most gun owners already know, magazines holding more than ten rounds are standard equipment for many popular pistols and rifles throughout the country.  In fact, most pistols in the United States are manufactured and sold with magazines holding between ten and seventeen rounds.

The overwhelming majority of states have not banned law-abiding citizens from owning standard-capacity firearms.   And only a handful of states refer to such firearms and magazines as being “high-capacity.”  The label “large-capacity magazine” is, of course, a term created by anti-gun zealots in an attempt to ostracize what, in reality, is the absolute norm nationwide.  Some in the gun ban lobby have even started referring to magazines over ten rounds as “mega magazines.”

The majority of law enforcement officers in the United States acknowledge that banning standard-capacity magazines capable of holding more than ten rounds will not increase public safety.  There is now a growing trend of law enforcement organizations actively opposing and challenging these measures in court.  The San Francisco Veteran Police Officers Association (SFVPOA) recently filed a lawsuit challenging San Francisco’s recent ban on the possession of standard-capacity magazines.  In Colorado, a broad coalition of law enforcement officials filed suit against that state's recently-enacted ban on common magazines.  Earlier this year in New York, the State Sheriffs Association, the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund and individual law enforcement officers filed an amicus brief in support of a challenge to the state ban on common rifles and magazines.  And in Connecticut, a coalition of individual law enforcement officers and the Law Enforcement Legal Defense Fund filed another legal brief in support of pending challenge to similar laws.

The Sunnyvale ordinance essentially allows for confiscation of any prohibited magazines and, because of state laws restricting their transfer, they cannot be replaced.  Sunnyvale's ordinance took effect on December 6, 2013.  Residents of Sunnyvale then have until March 6, 2014 to turn over their lawfully-possessed magazines to the police, remove them from Sunnyvale in the few cases where it might be legal or transfer them to a licensed firearms dealer.

Lawyers at Michel & Associates representing the plaintiffs will seek an injunction to prevent Sunnyvale from enforcing this law.  The plaintiffs are prepared to appeal this case as high as necessary to have this misguided ordinance declared unconstitutional.  This important Second Amendment issue may ultimately be addressed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

By allowing residents and visitors to Sunnyvale to only possess reduced-capacity magazines, the City has arbitrarily limited the number of rounds that its law-abiding residents have to protect themselves and their loved ones.  Hunters and sport shooters traveling through Sunnyvale with these magazines can also be prosecuted, even if they are unaware of this law.

Even active law enforcement officers are forced to surrender their magazines and cannot possess anything but reduced-capacity firearms for self-defense in their homes.  Although this law strangely exempts some retired law-enforcement officers who are authorized to carry a concealed firearm, it only exempts magazines possessed by active law enforcement officers while acting in the course and scope of their duties.

Police officers who have any magazines over ten rounds in their personal collections, or any magazines they were authorized to purchase for off-duty use, must dispose of those magazines.  If they don’t, the officers will become criminals.  The same is true for active law enforcement officials in San Francisco where the City Attorneys Office confirmed that only official-duty magazines issued by the Police Department are exempt.

Family members of law enforcement officers are also at risk.  If an officer leaves the house without locking his or her magazines away, anyone who is present in the home will be in violation of the law.  These misguided laws also place thousands of state and federal law enforcement officials who travel through Sunnyvale and San Francisco in jeopardy.  Many off-duty law enforcement officials lawfully carry a firearm with a magazine that holds more than ten rounds when traveling in other cities and states.  Every time these officers travel into San Francisco or Sunnyvale, they will be in violation of the law and subject to criminal prosecution.

Sunnyvale’s decision to limit law-abiding citizens to magazines holding a maximum of ten rounds endangers the public by giving violent criminals an advantage and decreasing the likelihood that a victim will survive a criminal attack.  Of course, criminals who wish to carry out violent attacks will not be thwarted by the City’s restriction since they ignore all gun control laws.  Criminals will simply continue to do what they have always done – buy and possess magazines on the black market or carry multiple firearms to complete their violent crimes.

The Sunnyvale magazine ban is part of a gun control package known as “Measure C” –  a ballot measure that was passed by Sunnyvale voters earlier this year.  Litigation has already been filed by the National Shooting Sports Foundation challenging the law’s ammunition sales registration requirements, which are preempted by state law and violate state privacy protections.

To assist in the fight against these attacks on gun owners' rights in California, please donate to the NRA Legal Action Project today.  For a summary of the many actions the NRA's legal team at Michel & Associates has taken on behalf of California gun owners, click here.

Second Amendment supporters should also be careful about supporting litigation efforts promised by other individuals and groups without access to the necessary funding, relationships, firearm experts and experienced lawyers on the NRA's national legal team.  The NRA's team of highly regarded civil rights attorneys and scholars has the resources, skill and expertise to maximize the potential for victory.

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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.