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California Ammo Laws

The COVID-19 pandemic has wreaked havoc on the global economy. This has increased fears of social unrest. Jeffrey Gundlach, CEO of investment firm Doubleline Capital and the so-called bond king, recently noted on CNBC that “we’ve lost every single job that we created since … 2009,” and that for the most part, “people don’t understand the magnitude of the social unease that’s going to happen.”

There are, however, some people who share Gundlach’s fears. Many of them have sought to purchase firearms and ammunition.

In California, however, this is a difficult task. In 2016, voters approved a ballot proposition referred to as the “Safety for All Act,” pursuant to which California enacted various restrictions on the purchase of ammunition. This article briefly discusses these restrictions and recent litigation over them.

The Restrictions

The restrictions enacted pursuant to the Safety for All Act ban California residents from directly purchasing ammunition from out-of-state dealers and impose background checks on anyone seeking to purchase ammunition. The background check procedure imposed under the newly enacted restrictions is quirky. For one thing, the check requires production of a REAL ID-compliant identification. However, most California driver licenses are not REAL ID compliant. In addition, the databases against which the background checks are required to be conducted produce a significant number of erroneous rejections.


In April 2018, a diverse group of plaintiffs filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Southern District of California challenging California’s ammunition restrictions. The first-named plaintiff in the suit is Kim Rhode, an Olympic medalist in skeet and double trap shooting with three World Championship medals. Rhode requires a significant amount of specialized competition ammunition for training and competition, most of which is produced outside of California. Under California’s ammunition restrictions, the ammunition that Rhode requires cannot legally be purchased in the state.

The Rhode lawsuit, which challenged California’s ammunition restrictions on Second Amendment and Commerce Clause grounds, was assigned to Judge Roger Benitez.

On April 23, 2020, Judge Benitez issued a preliminary injunction that enjoins enforcement of what he described as “California’s onerous and convoluted new laws requiring ammunition purchase background checks and implementing ammunition anti-importation laws.” In issuing the injunction, Judge Benitez held that “the ammunition anti-importation laws directly violate the federal dormant Commerce Clause.” He further found that the background check procedure mandated under California’s restrictions “rejected citizen-residents who are not prohibited persons approximately 16.4% of the time” and otherwise “severely burden[ed] the Second Amendment rights of every responsible, gun-owning citizen desiring to lawfully buy ammunition.”

The California Attorney General moved for a stay from Judge Benitez such that California’s ammunition restrictions can remain in effect pending an appeal. Judge Benitez denied the motion. Accordingly, the Attorney General appealed the ruling to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which, on April 24, 2020, granted an “administrative stay” pending resolution of an “emergency motion” filed by the Attorney General.

The Ninth Circuit’s “administrative stay” effectively reinstates the restrictions that Judge Benitez held unconstitutional and unenforceable. It bears noting, however, that an administrative stay is temporary in character and can be vacated by the Ninth Circuit at any time.

Confused about what your rights and obligations are under California’s gun laws?

Second Chances Law Group supports lawful and responsible gun ownership and use. If you are confused over what your rights and obligations as a gun owner are under California law, contact one of our experienced attorneys today.