Appeals Court Weighs Fate of Sunnyvale Gun Law

 (AFP-Getty Images)

A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco is weighing an attempt by the National Rifle Association to overturn Sunnyvale's voter-approved ban on firearms magazines that hold more than 10 rounds.

The NRA has argued that Sunnyvale's law, passed a year ago, infringes on the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. The organization lost preliminary rounds in the legal fight when U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Whyte refused to grant a preliminary injunction to stop enforcement of the law and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to block the law pending appeal.

NRA attorney Erin Murphy, representing a group of Sunnyvale gun owners, told a three-judge panel on Monday that the Second Amendment protects ownership of large magazines.

"Once something's within the scope of the Constitution, you can't flatly prohibit it and that's what this law does," Murphy told judges Michael Hawkins, Johnnie Rawlinson and Barbara Lynn. She called the ban on magazines that hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition an "extreme measure."

Attorney Roderick Thompson, representing Sunnyvale in the case, noted that voters approved the law after several highly publicized mass shootings involving firearms with large-capacity magazines. He argued the ordinance simply fills a gap in an existing state ban on selling, making and transporting magazines that hold more than 10 rounds.

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"The fit is exactly what was left out by state law," Thompson said. "They tried to make their community a little safer by restricting possession of these more lethal large-capacity magazines."

He told the panel: "This simply is a modest incremental regulation that the citizens of Sunnyvale approved to protect themselves."

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Typically, a federal appeals ruling might be expected in the next three to 12 months. As Howard Mintz of the San Jose Mercury News notes, the outcome of the case could well ripple well beyond Sunnyvale:

The stakes could be high, as other California cities, including Mountain View, San Francisco and Los Angeles, have moved to adopt similar regulations. And given that the 9th Circuit shapes law for nine western states, its Sunnyvale ruling is likely to have a much broader reach.

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