Banning and confiscating commonly-owned ammunition magazines does not run afoul of the Second Amendment.
At least according to U.S. District Judge John McConnell’s reading of the amendment.
On Wednesday, McConnell denied a motion for a preliminary injunction against Rhode Island’s recently passed law banning the sale and possession of ammunition magazines capable of holding more than ten rounds. He said that so-called Large-Capacity Magazines (LCMs) did not count as “arms” protected by the U.S. Constitution.
“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.”
The ruling deals a major setback to gun rights advocates both in the state of Rhode Island and nationwide. In the state, gun owners will be forced to either turn in their legally purchased magazines or risk facing a felony criminal charge. The decision employs an increasingly popular reasoning that has allowed judges to rule in favor of modern gun restrictions without subjecting them to the historical inquiry required by the Supreme Court in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen. An Oregon District Judge used a similar argument to uphold that state’s new magazine ban earlier this month.
Writing for the majority in Bruen, Justice Clarence Thomas wrote that “when the Second Amendment’s plain text covers an individual’s conduct, the Constitution presumptively protects that conduct, and to justify a firearm regulation the government must demonstrate that the regulation is consistent with the Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation.”
By ruling that magazines capable of holding more than ten rounds are not protected “arms” and not useful for self-defense, Judge McConnell said that his court “need not investigate whether the LCM Ban’s restrictions are consistent with the regulations of history.”
“The Court’s Second Amendment analysis simply ends here,” he added.
He also determined that banning the possession of magazines obtained legally before the ban did not count as a government “taking” because such a ban is “a reasonable public safety regulation” that serves the public interest. He said that any burden faced by gun owners when turning in or destroying their lawfully purchased property was “de minimus.”
Attorneys representing the plaintiffs did not respond to a request for comment. It is not immediately clear if the ruling will be appealed.
Cody Wisniewski, a senior attorney with the Firearms Policy Coalition (FPC) who helped file an amicus brief supporting the challenge to Rhode Island’s law, called the court’s decision “deeply flawed.”
“FPC’s brief in this case sought to specifically address the test set forth by the Supreme Court in Bruen and the relevant historical analysis for the Court,” he told The Reload. “Both Bruen and history demonstrate that Rhode Island’s law is unconstitutional, and yet the Court followed neither.”
The ban was passed earlier this June as part of a sweeping package that also banned the open carry of long guns and raised the age to purchase any firearm in the state to 21. The ban provided a 180-day grace period for owners of the now-outlawed magazines to surrender or destroy them. That grace period is set to expire on December 18. Individuals found to be in possession of a magazine with a capacity greater than ten rounds after that date could face up to five years in prison.
Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Neronha’s (D.) office did not respond to a request for comment.
UPDATE 12-14-2022 6:54 PM EASTERN: This piece has been updated with comment from Cody Wisniewski.