Last year, California passed a typically stringent limitation on gun ownership. After lawmakers had repeatedly failed to ban “assault style” weapons in the state, a new approach was found successful – a ban on large capacity magazines.
The law bans ownership of magazines which carry more than 10 rounds, affecting a wide variety of weapons, including many handguns.
A lawsuit filed last month in San Diego federal court by the state affiliate of the NRA is challenging this law. The complaint is the second in what attorneys describe as a long series of carefully thought-out lawsuits. These lawsuits aim to challenge what the NRA has described as “gunmageddon” – a series of stringent laws, passed in California and elsewhere, in recent years.
The proposition at stake here – Proposition 63 – was passed in the wake of the San Bernardino mass shooting, and gun control activists say that it is a critical part of efforts to avoid a repeat of that massacre.
Now, however, with President Trump in the White House and a large conservative majority in the Supreme Court, gun rights activists seem to have spotted an opportunity to overturn some of these rules.
The specific complaint in the lawsuit is that the 2016 law violates the constitutional rights of gun owners who have come into possession of large capacity magazines legally. The action is being brought by a number of local residents, three of whom say that they want large capacity magazines for home defense purposes. Two further complainants are military veterans, who say that they legally came into possession of these magazines before the law was passed, and should not have to give them up.
Manufacturing, selling, importing, or transfering such magazines has been illegal in California since 2000. Yet some gun owners had bought large capacity magazines before this date. The new proposition made it illegal to own such magazines, as of July 1. Those who already own them have been instructed to remove them to a state where possession is legal, sell the magazine back to a gun store, or give them to law enforcement officers for destruction.
The punishment for owning these magazines in California is quite harsh – theoretically, those still in possession of them can have to pay a fine of £100 and spend a year in jail.
There is argument, however, over whether restricting these magazines is likely to reduce the criminal abuse of guns. The NRA attorney representing the platintiffs has made the analogy that banning high-capacity magazines in order to stop such abuse is like banning high horsepower automobiles in order to stop the criminal abuse of automobiles.
Whilst, in a mass shooting situation, it is undoubtedly true that forcing the shooter to reload more frequently could slow them down and save some lives, I think that laws like this are addressing the wrong problem. It’s still possible to do a lot of damage with ten rounds, of course, and repeats of San Benardino are not going to be stopped by reducing magazine capacity.