Miller v. Becerra
Last week we were notified about a case filed in San Diego District Court named Miller v. Becerra. The headlines from the gun advocacy groups read, “LAWSUIT CHALLENGES CALIFORNIA ASSAULT WEAPON LAW!!!” and “JUDGE BENITEZ TO HEAR CHALLENGE TO AR LAW!”
Well… it’s a good, meritorious lawsuit, but I doubt it will be the panacea the headlines indicate.
Then again… it is St. Benitez… so anything, theoretically, could happen.
So, what is the lawsuit really about?
To understand Miller, you have to go back to the halcyon days of Pre-SB 880. Back then, if you had a rifle that accepted a detachable magazine, and had one or more “evil features,” you had yourself an “assault weapon” as defined by the California Penal Code. (Actually, this is not entirely exhaustive. There were other specifically enumerated “assault weapons” as well, but for the purposes of this discussion we will limit it to the stated classification above.)
To ensure that citizens were legally compliant, most people opted for a fixed-magazine solution. Remember… the definition of an “assault weapon” hinges on the detachable magazine component.
To this end, a manufacturer developed the so-called “bullet button,” a device that requires a tool to be inserted into the magazine release to detach the magazine. Since this met the requirements of a “fixed magazine,” the gun owner was free to have as many “evil features” as she wanted on her rifle.
There was, however, one problematic component: a “fixed magazine” capable of holding more than ten rounds converted a weapon, per se, into an “assault weapon,” regardless of the presence of any additional “evil features”.
For most, this was not an issue. Most California residents did not have standard-capacity magazines in their home armories. Those that did had to be careful not to use them in their fixed-magazine rifles.
Then SB 880 modified the penal code to state emphatically that a “bullet button” magazine release was not sufficient to make a rifle a “fixed magazine”. To be compliant the user would have to remove all of the evil features or, alternatively, go with a new fixed-magazine system that would require disassembly of the action prior to removal of the magazine. It would appear, anecdotally, that most rifle owners opted for this route.
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What it did not do was modify the definition that a fixed magazine capable of holding more than ten rounds creates an “assault weapon”.
Enter Duncan v. Becerra…
As many of you know, Judge Benitez was asked to decide on Duncan v. Becerra. The case involved a challenge to California’s ban on standard-capacity magazines, specifically, magazines that were legally acquired prior to the law making them illegal. Magazines that were acquired through legal channels were now, pursuant to Prop 63, illegal to possess. Up until Prop 63, only the method of acquisition was regulated; possession was not necessarily illegal.
In Duncan, the plaintiffs asked for the court to issue an injunction against enforcement of those owners who were in legal possession of standard-capacity magazines.
St. Benitez did them one better… he invalidated the whole damn law.
He then issued a stay, pending appeal, but issued the stay to take effect one week after the decision was published. As a result, during “freedom week” California customers depleted the entire nation’s inventory of standard-capacity magazines. It was awesome!!!
Now we come to Miller.
The plaintiffs in Miller have said, “Hey… so I have these standard-capacity magazines that I bought during ‘freedom week’… and I have this fixed-magazine AR… the fact that I can’t put this legal magazine into my legal AR because then, and only then, would it be an illegal ‘assault weapon’ violates my 2A rights.”
So… honestly, I’m not 100% thrilled with this legal argument.
I get it… it is an unbelievably stupid law that exists… but it is not my ideal Second Amendment case.
Also… the plaintiffs are asking Judge Benitez to issue an injunction on a very specific aspect of the “assault weapons” law, not exactly the blazing indictment of the penal code that the headlines from last week suggested.
That said… it is St. Benitez. He could very well negate the whole penal code… he’s done it before.
We shall have to wait and see.