An attendee examines a pistol at the 2024 SHOT Show
An attendee examines a pistol at the 2024 SHOT Show / Stephen Gutowski

Federal Judge Strikes Down California Gun Sale Rationing Restriction

The Golden State cannot limit how many firearms a lawful buyer can purchase in a month.

That’s the ruling U.S. District Judge William Q. Hayes handed down on Monday. In his ruling, he struck down California’s one-gun-a-month (OGM) restriction. He found it fell outside the scope of the nation’s historical tradition of gun regulation and, therefore, violated the Second Amendment.

“Defendants have not met their burden of producing a ‘well-established and representative historical analogue’ to the OGM law,” Judge Hayes, a George W. Bush appointee, wrote in Nguyen v. Bonta“The Court therefore concludes that Plaintiffs are entitled to summary judgment as to the constitutionality of the OGM law under the Second Amendment.”

The ruling marks the latest success for gun-rights advocates against the Golden State’s uniquely stringent gun laws. While a handful of states limit the number of certain types of firearms that a person may purchase per month, California stood alone as the only state to apply that limit to any gun or unfinished firearm receiver. The decision also adds to the growing body of case law surrounding commercial gun sale regulations, an area of Second Amendment law that has been less well-developed since the Supreme Court handed down its landmark New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen decision.

The Firearms Policy Coalition (FPC), which first sued California over the law in December 2020, celebrated the ruling.

“Another week, another California gun control law declared unconstitutional by a federal court,” Cody Wisniewski, FPC’s General Counsel, said in a statement. “California’s one-gun-a-month law directly violates California resident’s right to acquire arms and has no basis in history.”

However, the ruling won’t change much in the immediate term. Judge Hayes stayed his decision for 30 days to give the state time to appeal. Attorney General Rob Bonta’s (D.) office told The Reload they were “currently reviewing the decision.”

The legal fight began after California Governor Gavin Newsom (D.) signed Senate Bill 61 in 2019. The law prohibited residents from purchasing a handgun or semiautomatic centerfire rifle from a licensed dealer if they had already acquired another handgun or semiautomatic centerfire rifle in the previous 30 days beginning in July of 2021. The state assembly later expanded this rule in 2022 with Assembly Bill 1621, which made any firearm or “precursor part” subject to the same one-per-month restriction.

California lawmakers argue that the law is necessary to help prevent “bulk purchases” that could facilitate black-market gun sales to criminals. Gun-rights advocates counter that the limits are an arbitrary and impermissible burden on constitutionally-protected commerce. FPC sued the state on behalf of four California gun owners who alleged that the law violated their Second Amendment rights.

To evaluate their claims, Judge Hayes weighed whether the one-gun-a-month law implicated the plain text of the Second Amendment.

The attorney general’s office attempted to argue that commercial regulations on the sale of firearms were “presumptively lawful” based on non-binding sections of the Supreme Court’s Heller decision and that no further inquiry was required to uphold it. They also argued that the law did not implicate the amendment’s text because it “does not impact an individual’s ability to ‘keep’ or ‘bear’ arms” but rather limits the ability to acquire multiple arms within a certain time period. Those claims did not persuade Judge Hayes.

“[T]he fact that the OGM law burdens Plaintiffs’ Second Amendment right rather than outright prevents Plaintiffs’ from keeping and bearing arms is not determinative of whether the proposed conduct is covered by the plain text of the Second Amendment,” he wrote.

His analysis then turned to a review of historically analogous regulations that might compare to California’s modern-day gun rationing scheme. The state proposed late eighteenth-century laws regulating the storage of gunpowder, colonial-era laws restricting the sale of firearms to Native Americans, mid-nineteenth-century laws prohibiting the sale of certain knives and pistols, and founding-era laws requiring licensing and taxes to sell firearms as analogues.

At each turn, Judge Hayes rejected the state’s suggestions as not “relevantly similar” in “how and why” each restriction impacted the right to keep and bear arms.

“The taxing and licensing regulations are not ‘relevantly similar’ to the OGM law,” he wrote. “Unlike the OGM law, taxing and licensing regulations placed no limit on the quantity or frequency with which one could acquire firearms. In fact, the licensing regulations proffered by Defendants imposed no burden on the acquisition of firearms; they regulated only the seller. Accordingly, these laws do not establish a ‘tradition of firearm regulation’ similar to the OGM law.”

The ruling gives the parties to the case seven days to file a proposed final judgment. FPC expects the fight over the law to continue.

“Given it seems certain California will refuse to learn its lesson, we look forward to continuing to strike down its gun control regime and to defending this victory,” Wisniewski said.

UPDATE 7:51 PM EASTERN 3-11-2024: This piece has been updated with comments from the California Attorney General’s Office.

Join For Sober, Serious Firearms Reporting & Analysis

3rd Anniversary SALE!!
20% Off Your First Year!!

Free Weekly Newsletter

Get the most important gun news

Reload Membership

Monthly
$10
$ 8 a Month
  • Weekly News & Analysis Newsletters
  • Access to Exclusive Posts
  • Early Access to the Podcast
  • Commenting Privileges
  • Exclusive Question & Answer Sessions

Reload Membership

Yearly
$100
$ 80 a Year
  • Two Months Free
  • Weekly News & Analysis Newsletter
  • Access to Exclusive Posts
  • Early Access to the Podcast
  • Commenting Privileges
  • Exclusive Question & Answer Sessions
Best Deal
Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019

Share

Facebook
Twitter
Reddit
Email
Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019

Comments From Reload Members

Subscribe
Notify of
0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Menu

Get your copy of our FREE weekly newsletter!