Appeals court lets California impose ammunition background checks for now

A divided federal appeals court on Monday said California can proceed with enforcing a law requiring people to undergo background checks each time they purchase firearms ammunition.

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit ruled 2-1 to pause last week’s decision by U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez, who found that the background checks law violated the Second Amendment and did not conform with the nation’s history and tradition of firearms laws.

In this Thursday, March 1, 2018, photo Remington rifle ammunition is shown at Duke's Sport Shop in New Castle, Pa.
In this Thursday, March 1, 2018, photo Remington rifle ammunition is shown at Duke’s Sport Shop in New Castle, Pa. | (AP Photo/Keith Srakocic)


The decision on Monday was issued by U.S. Circuit Judges Richard Clifton and Holly Thomas, both appointees of Democratic presidents. U.S. Circuit Judge Consuelo Callahan, an appointee of Bush, dissented, saying that the state did not show a likelihood of success on appeal.

State Attorney General Rob Bonta (D) previously condemned the district court’s decision. Bonta said this week that the appeals court ruling meant the state’s “life-saving ammunition laws will remain in effect as we continue to defend them in court.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) even directly targeted Benitez in a statement condemning his decision, saying, “Judge Benitez is not even pretending anymore. This is politics, pure and simple.”

In 2016, California voters approved a ballot measure that required gun owners to undergo an initial background check to purchase ammunition and to pay $50 for a permit that subsequently allowed them to buy ammunition for four years. But lawmakers later changed the rules in 2019 to require background checks each time a gun owner makes an ammunition purchase.

Benitez’s Jan. 30 ruling marked the latest federal court decision declaring a gun restriction unconstitutional following a 6-3 ruling by the Supreme Court in June 2022 that found gun laws must conform with the nation’s history and tradition of firearm laws. I


“These fifty laws identified by the Attorney General constitute a long, embarrassing, disgusting, insidious, reprehensible list of examples of government tyranny towards our own people,” Benitez wrote in a 32-page decision.

The district court’s decision made waves for gun owners across the Golden State, causing firearms and ammunition distributors in Fresno to report a surge in ammunition sales that was likely spurred by Benitez’s ruling.

“We’re getting phone calls and a lot more traffic, (probably) 50 percent more,” a local ammunition supplier told the Fresno Bee this week.


The legal process is still underway at the 9th Circuit, and the court there could weigh the decision on the merits sometime after late-May.