Rob Romano, the creator of The Gun Case Tracker brings us some good news out of the Ninth Circuit in California. The court there used strict scrutiny to strike down California’s ban on semi-auto rifles for young adults. The decision in the case, Jones v. Bonta, does come with a string attached. The court ruled that the state can require those young adults under 21 to obtain a $15 hunting license in order to purchase a semi-auto rifle.
BREAKING: Jones v. Bonta (9th Circuit): Ninth Circuit uses strict scrutiny to strike down California ban on semiautomatic centerfire rifle sales to young adults, but says the state can require them to obtain a hunting license in order to purchase one. https://t.co/E0Ps80oYRq pic.twitter.com/xeQB59LC6l
— Rob Romano (@2Aupdates) May 11, 2022
The decision can be found here.
The panel affirmed in part and reversed in part the district court’s denial of plaintiffs’ motion for a preliminary injunction seeking to enjoin, under the Second Amendment, California’s bans on the sale of long guns and semiautomatic centerfire rifles to anyone under the age of 21.
The panel held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in declining to enjoin the requirement that young adults obtain a hunting license to purchase a long gun. But the district court erred in not enjoining an almost total ban on semiautomatic centerfire rifles.
First, the historical record showed that the Second Amendment protects the right of young adults to keep and bear arms, which includes the right to purchase them. Therefore, both California laws burdened conduct within the scope of the Second Amendment.
Second, the district court properly applied intermediate scrutiny to the long gun hunting license regulation, which permits a young adult to buy a long gun if he gets a hunting license. This requirement does not prevent young adults from having any firearms or from using them in any particular way, and therefore did not impose a significant burden on the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. The district court did not abuse its discretion in finding that the regulation would survive intermediate scrutiny, as defendants would likely be able to show that California’s long gun regulation was a reasonable fit for the stated objectives of increasing public safety through sensible firearm control.
Third, the district court erred by applying intermediate scrutiny, rather than strict scrutiny, to the semiautomatic centerfire rifle ban. Strict scrutiny applied because the law on its face banned almost all young adults from having semiautomatic rifles. The main difference between this ban and the long gun regulation was the exceptions. The long gun regulation has a readily available exception, at least on its face—young adults can get hunting licenses. The semiautomatic rifle ban has no such exception: the only young adults who can buy semiautomatic rifles are some law enforcement officers and active-duty military servicemembers. The panel held that California’s ban was a severe burden on the core Second Amendment right of selfdefense in the home. Even applying intermediate scrutiny, the ban, prohibiting commerce in semiautomatic rifles for all young adults except those in the police or military, regulated more conduct than was necessary to achieve its goal and therefore failed the reasonable fit test.
Finally, the panel held that the district court also abused its discretion in finding that there was no irreparable harm and that the public interest favored declining to issue an injunction.
Concurring, Judge Lee joined the opinion in full but wrote separately to highlight how California’s legal position has no logical stopping point and would ultimately erode fundamental rights enumerated in the Constitution. If California can deny the Second Amendment right to young adults based on their group’s disproportionate involvement in violent crimes, then the government can deny that right— as well as other rights—to other groups. Judge Lee wrote that “we cannot jettison our constitutional rights, even if the goal behind a law is laudable.”
Clearly this is good news for California’s young adults, and indeed for young adults across America. The case also marks yet another big victory for the Firearms Policy Coalitions legal team.