California Mail-Order Ammo Restriction Ruled Unconstitutional
Report by C.D. Michel
In a dramatic ruling giving gun owners a win in an National Rifle Association / California Rifle and Pistol (CRPA) Foundation lawsuit, this morning Fresno Superior Court Judge Jeffrey Hamilton ruled that AB 962, the hotly contested statute that would have banned mail order ammunition sales and required all purchases of so-called “handgun ammunition” to be registered, was unconstitutionally vague on its face.
The trial Court enjoined enforcement of the statute, so mail order ammunition sales to California can continue unabated, and ammunition sales need not be registered under the law.
The lawsuit was prompted in part by the many objections and questions raised by confused police, ammunition purchasers, and sellers about what ammunition is covered by the new laws created by AB 962. In a highly unusual move that reflects growing law enforcement opposition to ineffective gun control laws, Tehama County Sheriff Clay Parker is the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit. Other plaintiffs include the CRPA Foundation, Herb Bauer Sporting Goods, ammunition shipper Able’s Ammo, collectible ammunition shipper RTG Sporting Collectibles, and individual Steven Stonecipher. Mendocino Sheriff Tom Allman also supported the lawsuit.
The ruling comes just days before the portion of the law that bans mail order sales of so-called “handgun ammunition” was set to take effect on February 1, 2011. The lawsuit, Parker v. California, is funded exclusively by the NRA and the CRPA Foundation. If it had gone into effect, AB 962 would have imposed burdensome and ill-conceived restrictions on the sales of ammunition. AB 962 required that “handgun ammunition” be stored out of the reach of customers, that ammunition vendors collect ammunition sales registration information and thumb-prints from purchasers, and conduct transactions face-to-face for all deliveries and transfers of “handgun ammunition.” The lawsuit successfully sought the declaration from the Court that the statute was unconstitutional, and successfully sought the injunctive relief prohibiting law enforcement from enforcing the new laws.
Trial Court Agrees that Ammo Ban is Unconstitutionally Vague
The lawsuit alleged, and the Court agreed, that AB 962 is unconstitutionally vague on its face because it fails to provide sufficient legal notice of what ammunition cartridges are “principally for use in a handgun,” and thus is considered “handgun ammunition” that is regulated under AB 962. It is practically impossible, both for those subject to the law and for those who must enforce it, to determine whether any of the thousands of different types of ammunition cartridges that can be used in handguns are actually “principally for use in” or used more often in, a handgun. The proportional usage of any given cartridge is impossible to determine, and in any event changes with market demands.
Decision Will Probably Be Appealed but Law Will Still Be Suspended
Constitutional vagueness challenges to state laws are extremely difficult to win, particularly in California firearms litigation, so this success is particularly noteworthy. Even so, an appeal by the State is likely, but the Court’s Order enjoining enforcement of the law is effective immediately, regardless [of the possibility of appeal]. Editor’s Note: An injunction against the application of AB 962s provision will remain in effect until such time as it is vacated by an appellate court. But for the time being, mail-order ammo sales to California can proceed without restriction, as if AB 962 were never signed into law. Until a higher court rules otherwise, the contested provisions of AB 962 are rendered a nullity.
This report provided by C.D. Michel Michel of Michel & Associates, counsel for the NRA in the litigation challenging the California mail-order ammo ban.
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