A collection of magazines on display at the 2023 NRA Annual Meeting
A collection of magazines on display at the 2023 NRA Annual Meeting / Stephen Gutowski

Federal Appeals Court Upholds Rhode Island Ammo Magazine Ban

Rhode Island’s ban on possessing ammunition magazines capable of holding more than ten rounds doesn’t violate the Second Amendment, a federal appeals court ruled on Friday.

A three-judge panel for the First Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously upheld a lower court’s denial of a motion for preliminary injunction against Rhode Island’s magazine ban. The panel did so after ruling that “large capacity magazines” (LCMs) are rarely used in self-defense, and the state’s ban imposes “no meaningful burden” on Rhode Islanders’ ability to defend themselves. It also held the magazine ban was relevantly similar to historical gun restrictions, as required by the Supreme Court’s test in New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen.

“The justification for the law is a public safety concern comparable to the concerns justifying the historical regulation of gunpowder storage and of weapons like sawed-off shotguns, Bowie knives, M-16s and the like,” Judge William Kayatta, a Barack Obama appointee, wrote in Ocean State Tactical v. Rhode Island. “The analogical ‘how’ and ‘why’ inquiry that Bruen calls for therefore strongly points in the direction of finding that Rhode Island’s LCM ban does not violate the Second Amendment.”

The ruling deals a blow to the state’s owners of the affected magazines, which come standard with most modern firearms. Because Rhode Island’s ban includes possession as well as future sales, those who do not surrender or permanently modify their magazines risk facing up to five years in prison or a $5,000 fine. It’s also the latest in a string of federal court decisions upholding state-level bans on disfavored firearms and magazines, rankling gun-rights advocates who say the rulings flout the Supreme Court’s guidance on the Second Amendment.

Kostas Moros, a gun-rights lawyer, criticized the panel decision for defying the High Court’s determination that “interest balancing analysis is not appropriate” in gun cases.

“They are doing it anyway, and blatantly,” he said in a social media post. “Will SCOTUS do anything about it?”

Meanwhile, Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha (D.) celebrated the panel’s decision, calling it a “complete and convincing win for the state.”

“Grateful to the Assistant Attorneys General who worked this case so brilliantly,” he said in a social media post. “We truly are stronger than ever.”

Attorneys representing the plaintiffs did not respond to a request for comment.

The case stems from a 2022 state law outlawing possession of magazines that hold more than ten rounds as part of a package of new gun restrictions. The law gave existing owners of prohibited magazines 180 days to surrender, destroy, or permanently modify them before their continued ownership became a criminal offense. A pair of Rhode Island gun businesses teamed up with four individual gun owners to challenge the law that year before the amnesty period expired.

In December 2022, US District Judge John McConnell rejected their challenge because he said magazines do not count as “arms” under the Second Amendment and thus are not entitled to constitutional protection.

“The plaintiffs have failed in their burden to demonstrate that LCMs are ‘Arms,’ within the meaning of the Second Amendment’s text,” Judge McConnell, an Obama appointee, wrote in his order. “Moreover, even were they ‘arms,’ the plaintiffs have failed to prove that LCMs are weapons relating to self-defense. There is no Second Amendment violation from the LCM Ban because of those two shortfalls of persuasion.”

Reviewing that decision, the First Circuit panel assumed without ruling that magazines are, in fact, “arms” but that restricting their possession based on capacity fit within the nation’s historical tradition of gun regulation. Writing on behalf of the majority, Judge Kayatta noted that there was “no directly on-point tradition” of restricting magazine capacity. Instead, he pointed to other historical weapons restrictions. While SCOTUS gave much greater weight to Founding-era gun restrictions in Bruen, the panel focused primarily on 19th-century knife bans instituted by some states and the 1934 National Firearms Act to make its decision.

“In sum, the burden on self-defense imposed by HB 6614 is no greater than the burdens of longstanding, permissible arms regulations, and its justification compares favorably with the justification for prior bans on other arms found to pose growing threats to public safety,” Kayatta wrote.

The ruling allows Rhode Island to continue to enforce its magazine ban. The plaintiffs can either appeal the decision or return to the district court to argue the case on its merits.

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Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019


Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019

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