Federal Judge Upholds Sunnyvale Gun Law, Legal Fight Continues

A federal appellate court struck down an attempt to void Sunnyvale’s restriction on high-capacity gun magazines, saying the ordinance is a reasonable effort to prevent gun violence.

Sunnyvale passed Measure C in 2013, an effort started shortly after the Sandy Hook massacre, with 67 percent of the vote. The decision prevents residents from owning magazines that hold more than 10 rounds. The move sparked national controversy, drew the ire of the gun rights lobby and spurred legal challenges.

In 1988, Sunnyvale had its own mass shooting that left seven dead.

Gun owner Leonard Fyock immediately sought to repeal Measure C, which garnered the full-throated support of the gun lobby. The National Rifle Association (NRA) argued for Fyock and a four other plaintiffs that the municipal law flouted Second Amendment rights to bear arms in self-defense.

But Fyock’s effort to secure a preliminary injunction was dismissed Wednesday by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

“Sunnyvale’s foremost stated objective for enacting Measure C is to promote public safety by reducing the harm of intentional and accidental gun use,” 9th Circuit Judge Michael Hawkins wrote. “Measure C is also intended to reduce violent crime and reduce the danger of gun violence, particularly in the context of mass shootings and crimes against law enforcement. It is ‘self-evident’ that Sunnyvale’s interests in promoting public safety and reducing violent crime are substantial and important government interests.”

Now with the court's blessing, Sunnyvale can continue enforcing the ban while the lawsuit moves forward in court.

Fyock's legal challenge was one of many throughout the nation after a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision in 2008, Heller v. District of Columbia, affirmed that the constitutional right to bear arms applies to personal gun possession, with some limitations. The decision stated that the “prohibition of ... large-capacity magazines does not effectively disarm individuals or substantially affect their ability to defend themselves.”

Since then, a number of gun rights advocates have sued to test the scope of the Heller decision.

This case marks the first time that the 9th Circuit, whose jurisdiction spans nine western states, will on the constitutionality of high-capacity gun magazine bans. A similar ban was upheld in 2011 by a federal judge in Washington D.C.

High-capacity magazines have been regulated for 20 years through a mix of state and federal laws. In 1994, Congress restricted transfer and possession of magazines manufactured after the the Assault Weapons Ban went into effect. In 2000, California criminalized their sale, purchase and transfer. But in 2004, the federal law expired, leaving a loophole that allowed people to own high-capacity magazines. Sunnyvale’s Measure C was an effort to close that regulatory gap.

"Sunnyvale’s law was unique in that it prohibited people from possessing magazines or any part of a magazine, no matter whether it was previously owned legally," Joshua Berger, of the Calguns Foundation, told San Jose Inside.

 

Farella Braun + Martel, the law firm defending Sunnyvale for free, argued that large-capacity magazines are disproportionately used in mass shootings and shootings of police officers.

Former Mayor Tony Spitaleri led the charge for Measure C in response to the Sandy Hook shooting that left 20 children and six teachers dead. Adam Lanza was able to inflict more damage because he used high-capacity magazines that allowed him to fire off 155 bullets in five minutes.

This article has been updated.

Jennifer Wadsworth is a staff writer for San Jose Inside and Metro Newspaper. Email tips to [email protected] or follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.

13 Comments

  1. I used to be one of those that would have defended the use of a 10 round + clip. Couldn’t help it, was raised my entire life shooting. Not to brag, but give me a Ruger 10/22 or a marlin 22mag, and I can hit anything.

    The one thing that changed me though was the birth of my daughter. It really changed my outlook on everything. It was no longer an issue of “My right to bear arms” but one of keeping my kids safe. I got rid of my firearms (sans one air rifle) because of the fear of my kids getting into it.

    I’m sure a gun right advocate or two would tell me, “Just get a safe” Problem is, anytime you try to keep something from kids, they try even harder to get at it.

    • So instead of hiding guns from her, teach her about guns. Teach her about the dangers that surround guns, teach her not to play with them, teach her what to do if she ever finds one, and when she hits the appropriate age teach her how to handle one safely (NOT SHOOT, HANDLE). Shielding her from guns will only accomplish one thing. It will ensure that if and when she ever does come across one she will be completely clueless on how to handle the situation safely. Kids are hit by cars all the time; but you wouldn’t decide to never teach your daughter to cross the street for fear she might get run over. Kids are taken by strangers all the time, but you wouldn’t decide not to teach her about the dangers of talking to strangers for fear she might get taken by one. Denying the fact that guns are everywhere and not teaching your daughter how to recognize the danger they can create doesn’t protect her; it makes her ignorant.

  2. They want hand gun to hold 10 bullets. Now if we assign each bullet to the kids who were killed in Sand Hook elementary school, it will leave us with no bullet to be hold in the gun because if u say that we want 10 now the parent of the kid who was killed with the 5th bullet will say no it should have hold 4 and the next one will say my kid was killed with the 1st bullet so if we put that claim in play the number of bullets a hang gun should hold is zero. So now the government is saying it is ok to kill 10 people that is if each bullet is assigned to 1 person. limiting mag capacity not a solution, remember a gun is not the problem but the person behind it is. CommonseSense

    • Well said. Why do parents raise children who want to murder other children? Is getting one’s ego stroked so strong?

    • This isn’t about protecting the public, or the kids, it’s about disarming the people. Any suggestion to the contrary is just an attempt to justify their blatant violation or our fundamental rights. The right to bear arms is not just about self-defense. It’s about the people having the ability to keep the government in check; using guns if it comes to that. Limiting the capacity of magazines is just another way of ensuring that if the people do decide they’ve had enough and start to fight back, the government will have the upper hand. Why would we give up the right to defend ourselves against the government under the idea that we’re protecting the government? We are giving the power to the very entity that we’re supposed to be protecting it from. It goes against everything this country was founded on; and against the very ideal that the 2nd Amendment was created to protect.

  3. as if firearms rules or regulations did anything except increase one’s inability to lawfully choose their means of self defense, why is my families or my right to self defense limited by the beliefs or opinions of complete and total strangers? I would never dream of being able to tell my neighbor what products they should be allowed to posses or to keep on their land or within their home, where in the Hell do you people believe this to be you right or privilege, what makes your beliefs greater or more important than anyone else’s ? I Choose Freedom and Liberty, but you can choose what ever you want just don’t include me, because I want none of it.

    • Felipe, it’s all about fear. The government and the media have successfully scared the people into giving up their right to defend themselves from the government. They’ve convinced the masses that the government can be trusted above all others to protect their freedom and their lives. They have become entirely dependent on the government for their own protection and they want nothing to do with protecting themselves. They have convinced the people that the 2nd Amendment no longer applies to anything other than defending yourself against an attacker. No, the 2nd Amendment is no longer needed for protection against tyranny, that’s just insane. The government isn’t reaching deeper and deeper into your lives and telling you how to live, what to eat, who to love, they’re not banning drinks and telling you what you can put into your own body. No no, they’re protecting you. It’s shameful.

  4. The lousy joke here is that the folks in Sunnyvale who passed the measure and the judge who upheld it may actually believe this law will deter even one criminal or one nutball from obtaining a large capacity magazine. Ill-conceived laws like this are the first step down a slippery slope.
    Non-criminals getting rid of their guns or large capacity magazines to reduce gun violence is like you getting a vasectomy because your neighbors have too many children.

  5. “Adam Lanza was able to inflict more damage because he used high-capacity magazines that allowed him to fire off 155 bullets in five minutes.”

    That is about 1 shot every 1.9 seconds… Count that out in your head. Many people can fire that many rounds in the same time frame with a single shot rifle. Many can load a new magazine in under a second. Capacity of the magazine is not what let him shoot that many rounds….

    This issue is not capacity of the magazine, it is capacity of the person. It is a question of who’s rights to violate. Do you step on the rights of the majority of safe law abiding people by removing guns or do you step on the rights of crazy people who don’t want to be hospitalized.

    If we make it easy to take rights away from crazy people then all society has to do is prove you are crazy. If what you believe is crazy and then you are crazy. Anyone who doesn’t believe in birth control, abortion, evolution, gay marriage is crazy and shouldn’t own guns.

    It is easy to blame firearms for mass killings because they are mostly what is used for such. I am not apposed to having gun ownership heavily regulated and think a civilized society should. However, I also believe in the God given right to defend ones self and family. This includes protection from tyranny which is probably not likely to happen at the federal level anytime soon but is already happened at the city, county and state level in some parts of the country.

    The right to guns is not given by the 2nd Amendment. The 2A was put there to prevent the government from taking that NATURAL GOD GIVEN right. If everyone was on the same page we would be able to pass meaningful gun laws to protect society but because a faction of the society wants to see guns completely removed the only way to protect the right is to reject those laws and see them for what they are; incrmental steps to the end-goal aformentioned.

    In response to those who want to protect kids, research what the top killer of kids is in America and pass meaningful laws to elimnate those first. If you can do that first, then you can start to say this is about the kids. Until then you are just using these senseless deaths for your politcal end-goals which is sickening.