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.