The Reload Analysis Newsletter

Members’ Newsletter: Gun-Rights Activists Land First Major Blow Against Assault Weapons Bans

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The Friday news dumb hit hard this week. We got big gun sales and polling news on Wednesday. I published a report on how Philly’s shutdowns and illegal policies kept residents from getting gun-carry licenses on Friday morning. But then Judge Roger Benitez dropped a bomb on California’s assault weapons ban late Friday night.

I was able to publish my piece on the ruling by 9:42 pm on Friday, which was several hours before the major news outlets got to the story. I’m proud The Reload was able to get ahead of other members of the media, even on major stories like this. But now that the ruling is out there, let’s take a closer look at what it means.

AR-15s on display at a gun store in Virginia
AR-15s on display at a gun store in Virginia / Stephen Gutowski

Miller v. Bonta is the first time a district court ruled any statewide assault weapon ban was unconstitutional. In the short term, it may not mean all that much. Judge Benitez temporarily stayed to allow for an appeal which the California AG has already said he plans to file. The state is likely to find a friendlier audience at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals despite a shift in the number of Republican-appointed judges there during Donald Trump’s term.

It’s unlikely Californians will be able to legally buy featureful rather than featureless AR-pattern rifles anytime soon.

But that doesn’t mean this ruling was meaningless. Far from it. Even if the Ninth Circuit reverses Benitez’s decision and upholds California’s “assault weapons” ban, the Supreme Court has shown sudden new interest in taking Second Amendment cases. They are currently deciding whether restrictive gun-carry laws violate the Second Amendment, which suggests a majority of justices may be eager to settle big questions after more than a decade of almost complete inaction on the issue.

It isn’t hard to imagine them going from gun carry to bans on the sale of the AR-15, the most popular rifle in the country. Gun-rights activists in the case, including the Firearms Policy Coalition and Second Amendment Foundation, are probably jumping at the opportunity to take this case to the Court.

Of course, much of what happens in the Ninth Circuit will probably come down to what happens in the Supreme Court’s gun-carry case. If the Court issues a surprise ruling upholding New York’s restrictive gun-carry law or punts the issue, then California officials and Ninth Circuit judges sympathetic to them are likely to plow ahead with an appeal in hopes of winning and without so much concern about an appeal to SCOTUS. However, if the Court strikes down New York’s law, you’re more likely to see the Wrenn strategy employed.

In Wrenn v. District of Columbia, the city’s restrictive gun law was struck down by a federal appeals court. Instead of appealing the decision, D.C. decided it wasn’t worth setting a larger precedent on the issue and accepted the ruling. A similar strategy was used in the New York case SCOTUS took up last year. Instead of continuing to defend their restrictive gun transportation law, the state gave the plaintiffs in the case exactly what they wanted once the Court accepted the case.

Adapt and avoid may become the prevailing strategy for gun-control advocates if it becomes clear SCOTUS is going to start taking more Second Amendment cases. You could also see some circuit courts try to minimize the impact of rulings against state gun laws by offering narrow rulings against them with little real-world effect but which require plaintiffs to start the legal process over again. There are many ways to delay and divert court cases if you have a good strategy in place.

Of course, the gun-rights groups know this too, and they have their own tricks. For instance, you may have noticed that many of these big rulings striking down California gun laws have come from Benitez. That’s because of legal maneuvering on the part of gun-rights advocates to make sure they ended up there. They’ve obviously been winning that battle lately, so they may be up to the task of dealing with minimization moves by their counterparts too. One tactic they’ve already employed is filing multiple cases against similar laws in many different federal circuits at once so at least one is likely to end up as an option for SCOTUS.

So, while Miller has a good shot of being the “assault weapons” case SCOTUS takes, it likely won’t be the only option for the justices to consider.

Philadelphia City Hall
Philadelphia City Hall / Stephen Gutowski

Evidence of how Philly’s games with residents applying for gun-carry licenses led to a substantial drop in the number of licenses issued came out in a Reload exclusive this week. The intermittent shutdowns of the licensing process and illegal sidestepping of a 45-day time limit on processing resulted in a 19 percent decrease in the number of licenses issued. The rest of the state saw a 25 percent increase.

The city has already lost in court over its attempts to mess with the state-mandated process. The numbers will probably hurt them in court in the future.

If the city continues to run a massive application backlog. If it doesn’t make enough resources available to clear the backlog. If it continues to try and sidestep the 45-day rule. If it intermittently shuts down processing. It will be sued again. And again. And it will lose.

In the meantime, though, residents of the locality with the most murders in the state will not be able to obtain gun-carry licenses. And that’s likely what matters more to city officials who have long violated state law in a variety of ways to try and keep guns out of the hands of their own residents.

The state says localities can’t make up their own gun laws. Philly does it anyway. They get sued and lose. They do it again regardless. The Phillies bullpen blows another game. The Flyers win ten games in a row, then lose ten in a row in the same season. The carousel goes round and round.

Handguns on display at a gun store in May 2021
Handguns on display at a Virginia gun store in May 2021 / Stephen Gutowski

I already wrote about this in the free newsletter on Friday, so I won’t dwell too much on it, but I think the story on record gun sales and poor polling for President Biden are connected. It’s a simple equation. Polling indicates people who own guns are less likely to support passing new gun-control measures. More people are buying guns now than ever before. President Biden wants to pass new gun-control measures. So, his polling on guns is doing terribly compared to most other issues and his overall approval rating.

There’s a bit more to it than that, of course. Liberal voters may be upset with Biden’s handling of guns for not doing enough—even if there isn’t much more he can actually do given the makeup of Congress. But Quinnipiac University’s poll found Republicans and independents were far more likely to disapprove of Biden’s gun plans than Democrats.

So, the simple explanation is likely the best in this case.

And he’s facing more than just disapproval problems. Guns being among the least likely issues to be IDed as “most important” for Americans doesn’t help Biden’s efforts to pass new gun laws either.

Canik TP9 Combat Elite
Canik TP9 Combat Elite / Stephen Gutowski

I came across an interesting gun at my local store on Saturday. I’ve had my eye on the Turkish-made Canik TP9 series for a while. I almost bought one over the Sig Sauger P320 X-Five when I was looking for a full-size 9mm handgun. But I ended up getting a great deal on that X-Five and pulling the trigger.

But the Canik impressed me for its price-to-performance ratio. And the TP9 Combat Elite I saw on Saturday even went beyond that.

It has every feature you want in a competition-ready 9mm handgun. A ported magazine well, an extended magazine, a threaded barrel, and a cutout for an RMR with a Vortex red dot already installed. But it was the upgraded trigger that really impressed me.

Apparently, Canik makes this thing themselves, and I’ve rarely felt a trigger as nice as the one in this gun. That’s surprising for a gun that’s basically just a collection of knock-off designs. But the take-up is short and smooth, with one of the best breaks I’ve ever felt in a handgun. The reset is short and crisp.

And all for $900! I felt dumb not buying it even though I already have and love the X-Five. I’d take this Canik over a $2,000 Gucci Glock any day of the week.

But the whole experience made me want to get into building my own handgun. I’d really like to drop that Combat Elite trigger into something with a bit better ergonomics and looks. Seems like it could be fun to put together a Gucci Glock or Canik of my own. I really enjoy building ARs from parts. I imagine I’d enjoy doing this as well. What do you guys think?

That’s it for this week. I’ll talk to you guys again soon.

Thank you,
Stephen Gutowski
The Reload

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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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Ryan Terry
Ryan Terry
1 year ago

I just picked up a Walther PDP. It’s quickly becoming my favorite handgun, and I’ve used quite a few of them. Hands down the best trigger of any striker-fired pistol. Pre-cut for optics and Walther provides a free adapter plate for the optic of your choice. Also, unlike so many… Read more »


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