In a split 2-1 ruling, the 9th Circuit court of appeals struck down California’s ban on handguns in Jones v. Bonta. The case concerns an almost total ban on semi-automatic centerfire rifles for those under 21.
The court found that California’s ban was a “severe burden” on 2nd Amendment Rights and ruled that the 2nd Amendment “protects the right of young adults to keep and bear arms, which includes the right to purchase them”
In the majority opinion, Judge Ryan Nelson, a Trump appointee, wrote that the district court had erred by applying intermediate scrutiny, a legal test courts use to determine a statute’s constitutionality. Nelson noted that the district court should have applied strict scrutiny to the statute, also known as the highest standard of review, which a court can use to evaluate the constitutionality of a law.
If this “intermediate scrutiny” issue sounds familiar, that’s because we’ve covered it before. Another case brought by Firearms Policy Coalition, Bianchi v. Frosh, tackles the issue of intermediate scrutiny holding up Maryland’s Assault Weapon Ban.
Nelson also mentioned that the ban would likely fail an intermediate scrutiny test based on “reasonable fit.”
Firearms Policy Coalition, who brought the case, had this to say:
“Today’s decision confirms that peaceable legal adults cannot be prohibited from acquiring firearms and exercising their rights enshrined in the Second Amendment. We are pleased to see progress on this important legal front and optimistic that similar results will come from our many other challenges to age-based bans filed in courts across the United States.”
The ruling could affect other age-based gun bans in the 9th Circuit. Washington State, also in the 9th Circuit, has a similar law.
It is interesting to see the changing of the winds in the court system, in many cases thanks to strategic appointees, but also the changing of public opinion. With the Supreme Court poised to expand gun rights in NYSRPA v. Bruen and many other cases working their way through the court system expected to have pro-gun rulings. In this way, the legal system reflects public opinion, with support for gun control being at a sixteen-year low.
However, as pointed out by firearms policy experts, this ruling was not a total pro-gun victory. Firearms Policy Coalition had sought to block the state from requiring a hunting license for purchases of rifles or shotguns by those under 21. But the court ruled that the license requirement was reasonable and “did not impose a significant burden on the Second Amendment.”
This type of ruling seems to be the case with most courts, which are hesitant to scrap licensing requirements for firearms even though we treat no other constitutional right as something to be regulated and permitted.
Regardless, this is a victory to be celebrated by gun owners, especially in California, where pro-gun rulings are few and far between.