Jones v. Becerra, Case No.: 19-cv-1226-L-AHG

Citation498 F.Supp.3d 1317
Decision Date03 November 2020
Docket NumberCase No.: 19-cv-1226-L-AHG
Parties Matthew JONES, et al., Plaintiffs, v. Xavier BECERRA, in his official capacity as Attorney General of California, et al., Defendants.
CourtU.S. District Court — Southern District of California

John W. Dillon, Dillon Law Group, APC, Carlsbad, CA, for Plaintiffs.

John Darrow Echeverria, Jennifer E. Rosenberg, Office of the California Attorney General, Los Angeles, CA, for Defendants.


M. James Lorenz, United States District Judge

Plaintiffs in this Second Amendment rights case have filed a motion for declaratory and injunctive relief. Defendants filed an Opposition and Plaintiffs filed a Reply.

Both parties have filed additional recent authority which they claim supports their respective positions.


Plaintiffs argues that California Penal Code § 27510(a), as amended by Senate Bill ("SB") 1100 and SB61, violates the Second Amendment rights of 18-20 year-old persons ("Young Adults") because it bans them from purchasing, using, transferring, possessing, or controlling any firearm. (Motion at 1). In Plaintiffs view, the ban directly contradicts the holdings in District of Columbia v. Heller , 554 U.S. 570, 595, 128 S.Ct. 2783, 171 L.Ed.2d 637 (2008) and McDonald v. City of Chicago, Ill. , 561 U.S. 742, 130 S.Ct. 3020, 177 L.Ed.2d 894 (2010), which collectively held that the Second Amendment's "text, structure and history" confirm an individual's fundamental right to keep and bear arms, and that this right applies with full force to the states. (Id. ) Plaintiffs contend that California's age-based gun ban cannot stand under the textual and historical analysis of Heller because it abridges Young Adults’ Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms in self-defense and for other lawful purposes. (Id. at 11-15). Even if the Court finds that the ban does not abridge a core right of the Second Amendment, the gun ban cannot pass strict or immediate scrutiny. (Id. at 17). In addition, Plaintiffs contend that the gun ban's exemptions are illusory and inapplicable because very few, if any, Young Adults qualify for those exemptions. (Id. at 27).

Defendants counter that the Court should deny Plaintiffs request to enjoin enforcement of § 27510 because Plaintiffs cannot show they are likely to succeed on the merits of their claims. (Oppo. at 1). Defendants argue that § 27510, as amended by SB 1100 and SB 61, is not an outright ban, but instead imposes limited restrictions with exceptions carved out for individuals with firearm training. (Id. ) The restrictions allow Young Adults to obtain long guns under certain circumstances, and ensure that "only those Young Adults with adequate training are able to purchase from federally licensed firearm dealers ("FFL") semi-automatic centerfire rifles capable of inflicting serious injury."1 (Id. ) Defendants argue that Plaintiffs cannot meet their burden to establish the other preliminary injunction factors. Specifically, Defendants suggest that the balance of equities and public interest weigh against enjoining enforcement of a law that promotes firearm safety education and limits access to dangerous semi-automatic weapons to individuals in an age group prone to impulsive or reckless behavior. (Id. 1-2).

California Penal Code § 27510 prohibits FFL's from selling a firearm to a person under 21 years of age: "A person licensed under Sections 26700 to 26915, inclusive, shall not sell, supply, deliver, or give possession or control of a firearm to any person who is under 21 years of age." Cal. Penal Code § 27510(a).

Section 27510 was amended by Senate Bill 1100 (SB 1100) and Senate Bill 61 (SB 61) which imposed age-based restrictions on the sale, supply, delivery, possession, or control of a firearm. See Id. ; 2017 California Senate Bill No. 1100; 2019 California Senate Bill No. 61. Notably, SB 1100 restricts the sale, rental, delivery, or transfer of long guns2 to any person under the age of 21 unless the individual has a valid, unexpired hunting license issued by the Department of Fish and Wildlife, is an active duty member of the Armed Forces, is an active duty peace officer, or honorably discharged member of the Armed Forces. See Cal. Penal Code § 27510 (b)(1)-(2). In 2019, the Legislature passed SB 61 which limited the sale to individuals under age 21 of semi-automatic centerfire rifles by FFL's to active duty or reserve law enforcement officers who are authorized to carry a firearm in the course of their employment, or active duty members of the Armed Forces. Cal. Penal Code. § 27510(3).


Preliminary injunctive relief is "an extraordinary remedy that may only be awarded upon a clear showing that the plaintiff is entitled to such relief." Winter v. Natural Res. Def. Council, Inc. , 555 U.S. 7, 22, 129 S.Ct. 365, 172 L.Ed.2d 249 (2008). A party seeking such relief under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 65 must show "that he is likely to succeed on the merits, that he is likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief, that the balance of equities tips in his favor, and that an injunction is in the public interest." Am. Trucking Ass'ns v. City of Los Angeles , 559 F.3d 1046, 1052 (9th Cir. 2009) (quoting Winter , 555 U.S. at 20, 129 S.Ct. 365 ). The Ninth Circuit applies a sliding scale approach to the showing of likelihood of success on the merits. See Alliance for Wild Rockies v. Cottrell , 632 F.3d 1127, 1131 (9th Cir. 2011). Under this approach, the elements of the preliminary injunction test are balanced and, where a plaintiff can make a stronger showing of one element, it may offset a weaker showing of another. Id. at 1131, 1134-35. "Therefore, ‘serious questions going to the merits’ and a hardship balance that tips sharply towards the plaintiff can support issuance of an injunction, so long as the plaintiff also shows a likelihood of irreparable injury and that the injunction is in the public interest." Id. at 1134-35.


The Second Amendment states: "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." U.S. Const. amend. II. An individual's right to possess a handgun in the home for self-defense is protected by the Second Amendment. Heller , 554 U.S. at 595, 128 S.Ct. 2783. In Heller , the Supreme Court struck down a series of laws in the District of Columbia which banned handgun possession within the home along with requirements that all firearms within the home be "unloaded and disassembled or bound by a trigger lock or similar device," Id. at 575, 128 S.Ct. 2783. The Court found that the core of the Second Amendment right is to allow "law-abiding, responsible citizens to use arms in defense of hearth and home." Id. at 635, 128 S.Ct. 2783. However, the Court noted that this right is "not unlimited" and that individuals may not "keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose." Id. at 626, 128 S.Ct. 2783. Importantly, the Court stated that "nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms." Id. at 626-27, 128 S.Ct. 2783.

In 2010, the Supreme Court incorporated the Second Amendment to the states via the Fourteenth Amendment's Due Process Clause. McDonald v. City of Chicago , 561 U.S. 742, 767, 130 S.Ct. 3020, 177 L.Ed.2d 894 (2010). The McDonald Court found that the right of law-abiding citizens to keep and bear arms for self-defense is "deeply rooted in this Nation's history and tradition." Id. at 768, 130 S.Ct. 3020 (internal quotation marks omitted). In sum, the Court held that "[s]elf-defense is a basic right, recognized by many legal systems from ancient times to the present day." Id. at 767, 130 S.Ct. 3020.

The Ninth Circuit has adopted a two-part test when considering the constitutionality of a firearm regulation which: "(1) asks whether the challenged law burdens conduct protected by the Second Amendment and (2) if so, directs courts to apply an appropriate level of scrutiny." United States v. Chovan , 735 F.3d 1127, 1138 (9th Cir. 2013). When determining whether a regulation creates a burden on protected Second Amendment conduct, the Ninth Circuit recently announced that it appears to ask four questions:

First, as a threshold matter, we determine whether the law regulates ‘arms’ for purposes of the Second Amendment. Second, we ask whether the law regulates an arm that is both dangerous and unusual. If the regulated arm is both dangerous and unusual, then the regulation does not burden protected conduct and the inquiry ends. Third, we assess whether the regulation is longstanding and thus presumptively lawful. And fourth, we inquire whether there is any persuasive historical evidence in the record showing that the regulation affects rights that fall outside the scope of the Second Amendment.
Duncan v. Becerra , 970 F.3d 1133, 1145 (9th Cir. 2020) (internal citations omitted).
A. Likelihood of Success on the Merits

Plaintiffs must show that they are likely to succeed on the merits of the claim that § 27510 is unconstitutional. In accordance with the Chovan two-part test, the Court first asks whether the challenged law burdens conduct protected by the Second Amendment. See 735 F.3d at 1138. To answer this question, the Court applies the Ninth Circuit's four prong inquiry, beginning with whether Section 27510 regulates "arms." Jackson v. City of San Francisco , 746 F.3d 953, 967 (9th Cir. 2014) ("The Second Amendment protects ‘arms,’ ‘weapons,’ and ‘firearms.’ ") At issue here are regulations limiting who may obtain or use "semi-automatic centerfire rifles" and "long-guns."...

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