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Federal Judge Blocks California Law Requiring Background Checks for Ammunition Sales

CULVER CITY, CALIFORNIA - MARCH 15: People stand in line outside the Martin B. Retting, Inc. guns store on March 15, 2020 in Culver City, California. The spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19) has prompted some Americans to line up for supplies in a variety of stores. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)
By Laura Temme, Esq. | Last updated on

U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez granted a preliminary injunction this week requested by the California Rifle and Pistol Association - halting enforcement of California's law requiring background checks for those looking to buy ammunition.

Calling the law "onerous and convoluted," Judge Benitez found that the background check requirement burdened those looking to buy ammo legally while doing very little to limit access by criminals.

Judge Says Background Checks Burden Legitimate Buyers

Californians voted to require background checks for ammo sales in 2016 with Proposition 63, which also banned the sale of high-capacity magazines. Although Judge Benitez previously halted the sale of high-capacity magazines while the state appeals a Second Amendment challenge, in this case he was more resolute.

"California's new ammunition background check law misfires," Judge Benitez wrote, "and the Second Amendment rights of California citizens have been gravely injured."

While the rule was enforced, those who are already in California's background check database for firearms paid a $1 fee for each ammunition purchase. Others could purchase longer-term licenses as long as they didn't have certain criminal convictions or mental health commitments on their record.

The state argued that the burden on legitimate buyers was minimal, as the average background check only took around 5 minutes to complete. But, Judge Benitez disagreed, writing that the background check requirement "defies common sense" because criminals and terrorists don't do background checks.

Five other states have passed legislation requiring background checks for at least some types of ammunition sales - New York, Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, and New Jersey. However, New York's rule (which most resembled California's) never went into effect because of legal challenges.

It's unclear at this point if the state Attorney General's office will appeal or seek a stay of the injunction.

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