Golden State gun owners won what appears to be “Round 1” in their legal battle against what they believe is an onerous background check requirement for ammunition purchases, thanks to a ruling by U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez in San Diego that declared the requirement violates the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment.
Attorney Chuck Michel told Liberty Park Press via email he would not be surprised if the State of California quickly asks the court to stay the ruling pending appeal. His prediction was spot-on, as the state has requested a stay, same as it did last year when Judge Benitez declared California’s ban on so-called “high capacity magazines” is also unconstitutional. His ruling may be read here.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra requested an immediate ruling on his motion, asserting, “Immediate action on this motion is necessary because the Attorney General is informed and believes that ammunition vendors have already started selling ammunition without background checks, creating the near certainty that prohibited persons—convicted felons, violent misdemeanants, and others prohibited by law from possessing firearms and ammunition—will have easy access to ammunition.”
The case is called Rhode v. Becerra, named for plaintiff Kim Rhode, the Olympic gold medalist who resides in California and is joined in the action by several other private citizens and businesses.
At issue is California’s Proposition 63, passed by voters in 2016. In his 120-page ruling, Judge Benitez observed, “Beyond the Supreme Court, the Second Amendment has been described as ‘the Rodney Dangerfield of the Bill of Rights.’ … Well, Mr. Dangerfield can feel better about himself now, because with Proposition 63, the Second Amendment gets even less respect than he does.”
Michel, general counsel to the California Rifle & Pistol Association, was quoted by the Associated Press explaining, “The law’s red tape and state database errors made it impossible for hundreds of thousands of law-abiding Californians to purchase ammunition for sport or self-defense. The court found that the flimsy reasons offered by the government to justify these constitutional infringements were inadequate.”
According to the ruling, more than 101,000 Californians have been denied initial ammunition purchases under the law, perhaps largely due to the state’s background check system.
In his ruling, Judge Benitez wrote, “Criminals, tyrants, and terrorists don’t do background checks. The background check experiment defies common sense while unduly and severely burdening the Second Amendment rights of every responsible, gun-owning citizen desiring to lawfully buy ammunition.”
So, who is Judge Benitez?
The 69-year-old jurist was born in Havana, Cuba. According to an online biography, he received an associate of arts degree from Imperial Valley College in 1921 and a Bachelor’s degree from San Diego State University in 1974. He received a Juris Doctor from Western State University College of Law in 1978.
Benitez served as a judge on the California Superior Court from 1997 to 2001, when he was appointed by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California to serve as a U.S. Magistrate judge. Two years later, he was nominated by then-President George W. Bush to a new seat on the Southern District Court, where he has served ever since. He assumed senior status at the end of 2017.
His ruling in this case, and the earlier Duncan v. Becerra, are detailed and amount to a blistering dissection of Proposition 63. The ammunition ruling brought a negative reaction from the anti-gun Brady group.
“This decision is patently wrong, and we expect that it will be reversed on appeal,” Brady president Kris Brown said in a statement quoted by NBC News. “The Second Amendment does not provide felons or domestic abusers with the right to buy ammunition or firearms, and it does not prevent states like California from requiring background checks.”
But near the end of Judge Benitez’ ruling, he says this: “Law-abiding citizens are imbued with the unalienable right to keep and bear firearms along with the ammunition to make their firearms work. That a majority today may wish it were otherwise, does not change the Constitutional right. It never has. California has tried its unprecedented experiment. The casualties suffered by law abiding citizens have been counted. Presently, California and many other states sit in isolation under pandemic-inspired stay-at-home orders. Schools, parks, beaches, and countless non-essential businesses are closed. Courts are limping by while police make arrests for only the more serious crimes. Maintaining Second Amendment rights are especially important in times like these. Keeping vigilant is necessary in both bad times and good, for if we let these rights lapse in the good times, they might never be recovered in time to resist the next appearance of criminals, terrorists, or tyrants.”