MATTHEW JONES V. ROB BONTA, No. 20-56174 (9th Cir. 2022)Annotate this Case
Plaintiffs challenged the bans on long guns and semiautomatic centerfire rifles under the Second Amendment. The district court declined to issue a preliminary injunction. The Ninth Circuit held 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. However, the court found that the district court erred in not enjoining an almost total ban on semiautomatic centerfire rifles. The court found that the Second Amendment protects the right of young adults to keep and bear arms, which includes the right to purchase them.
The court held that the district court’s reasoning that the laws did not burden Second Amendment rights was a legal error. The court further held that the district court properly applied intermediate scrutiny to the long-gun hunting license regulation and did not abuse its discretion in finding it likely to survive. However, the district court erred by applying intermediate scrutiny, rather than strict scrutiny, to the semiautomatic centerfire rifle ban. And even under intermediate scrutiny, this ban likely violates the Second Amendment because it fails the “reasonable fit” test. Finally, the court held that the district court abused its discretion in finding that Plaintiffs would not likely be irreparably harmed.
Court Description: Civil Rights. 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 4 JONES V. BONTA 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 self- defense 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 JONES V. BONTA 5 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.” Dissenting in part, Judge Stein stated that while the majority was correct to apply intermediate scrutiny to the long gun regulation to affirm the district court’s denial of the preliminary injunction, it erred in applying strict scrutiny to and reversing the district court with respect to the semiautomatic centerfire rifle regulation. On that basis, Judge Stein concurred with the majority’s holding and reasoning with respect to the long gun regulation and dissented from its holding and reasoning with respect to the semiautomatic rifle regulation. Judge Stein stated that by neglecting consideration of either the disproportionate perpetration of violent crime by, or the relatively immature and variable cognitive development among, adults under age 21, the majority opinion failed to conduct a legal analysis that comported with the corpus of precedent within this Circuit and elsewhere. Not only in Judge Stein’s view was it error for the majority to apply strict scrutiny to the semiautomatic rifle regulation, but its alternative holding that the regulation failed under intermediate scrutiny suffered from a faulty assessment of whether the regulation was a “reasonable fit” for California’s public policy objectives. 6 JONES V. BONTA
The court issued a subsequent related opinion or order on September 7, 2022.