By James Poulos.
With gun rights and regulations emerging as a hot-button issue in California politics, the city of Los Angeles has provoked a high-profile lawsuit against a recent prohibition on so-called high-capacity magazines.
“This summer, the City Council banned possession of magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition,” the Associated Press recalled. “Owners have until Nov. 18 to sell the magazines, take them out of the city or surrender them to police.” Failure to abide by the new law would result in a misdemeanor. The July ban came in the wake of reports issued by the L.A. city attorney, accordingto Courthouse News; it went into effect last month.
The response from law enforcement and gun enthusiasts has been swift. Thirty sheriffs statewide brought suit against the ban, joined by the California Reserve Peace Officers Association and the Golden State’s National Rifle Association affiliate, the California Rifle and Pistol Association, noted the Los Angeles Daily News. “Since 2000, California has outlawed manufacturing or selling high-capacity magazines, but Los Angeles’ ordinance goes further, making it illegal to possess them,” the paper added.
That statewide rule factored into the logic driving the lawsuit. According to the plaintiffs, “when Los Angeles banned gun magazines that hold more than 10 rounds in July, it ‘land locked’ gun owners who already had the legal weapons,” Courthouse News reported:
“Lead plaintiff Shasta County Sheriff Thomas Bosenko says that California has regulated the sale, possession and use of high-capacity magazines — those that hold more than 10 bullets — since Jan. 1, 2000. High-capacity magazines legally acquired before that date were exempt from the state’s ‘regulatory scheme’ and grandfathered in, according to the Oct. 23 lawsuit.”
But some legal analysts have already suggested that the lawsuit could be in vain. “Cities including Sunnyvale and San Francisco also ban possession of high-capacity magazines and have successfully fended off lawsuits from the NRA,” the Daily News observed.
A broader battle
At the same time, the Los Angeles ban follows on the heels of a similar law in San Francisco, whose former mayor and now Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom has vowed to extend the prohibition across all of California. “He proposes a statewide ban on possession — not just sales — of high-capacity ammunition magazines holding more than 10 rounds,” as George Skelton noted in the Los Angeles Times. In an interview with Skelton, Newsom said that his plan to circumvent the Legislature by putting the ban on the ballot illustrated “why direct democracy was conceived.” But he remained “vague,” Skelton suggested, about how to enforce the proposed rules, which would require owners “to sell them to a licensed dealer, take them out of state or turn them over to law enforcement.”
Although the plaintiffs challenging L.A.’s law have warned of a patchwork quilt of prohibitions too hard for gun owners to discern and obey, that kind of regime has emerged as the likely alternative to Newsom-style regulations covering the whole of California. Gov. Jerry Brown, known as a relative skeptic toward ever-stricter gun control, has effectively become the only officeholder capable of derailing new statewide rules cracking down on guns or ammunition.
In 2013, on the heels of another threatened lawsuit by the NRA, Brown rejected what would have been among the toughest of state laws. “Brown vetoed Senate Bill 374, which would have banned semi-automatic rifles with detachable magazines and required firearm owners to register even low-capacity rifles as assault weapons,” the Washington Post reported. “In a message to the Legislature, Brown wrote he didn’t ‘believe that this bill’s blanket ban on semi-automatic rifles would reduce criminal activity or enhance public safety enough to warrant this infringement on gun owners’ rights,’” the Post added.