Federal Appeals Court Rules In Favor Of Keeping Rhode Island Ammo Magazine Prohibition

On March  8, 2024, a federal appeals court ruled that Rhode Island’s prohibition on the possession of ammunition magazines able to hold over 10 rounds doesn’t infringe on the Second Amendment.

A three-judge panel for the First Circuit Court of Appeals unanimously ruled in favor of a lower court’s denial of a motion for preliminary injunction against Rhode Island’s magazine ban. The panel made this decision after ruling that “large capacity magazines” (LCMs) are rarely used in cases of self-defense, and the state’s prohibition imposes “no meaningful burden” on residents of Rhode Island’s ability to defend themselves. The ruling also determined that the magazine prohibition was similar to historical gun control restrictions, as stipulated by the Supreme Court’s test in New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen.

“The justification for the law is a public safety concern comparable to the concerns justifying the historical regulation of gunpowder storage and of weapons like sawed-off shotguns, Bowie knives, M-16s and the like,” Judge William Kayatta, a wrote in the Ocean State Tactical v. Rhode Island ruling. “The analogical ‘how’ and ‘why’ inquiry that Bruen calls for therefore strongly points in the direction of finding that Rhode Island’s LCM ban does not violate the Second Amendment.”

Due to how Rhode Island’s ban encompasses possession in addition to future sales, individuals who do not turn over or permanently modify their magazines out of risk of facing up to five years in prison or a $5,000 fine. 

The case has its origins in a 2022 state law banning the possession of magazines that hold more than 10 rounds as part of a broad-based gun control package. The law granted current owners of banned magazines 180 days to surrender, destroy, or permanently modify them before their continued ownership became a criminal offense. A pair of Rhode Island firearms businesses teamed up with four individual gun owners to challenge the law that year prior to the amnesty period’s expiration.

In December 2022, US District Judge John McConnell dismissed their challenge because he declared magazines do not count as “arms” under the Second Amendment and thus are not entitled to receive constitutional safeguards.

“The plaintiffs have failed in their burden to demonstrate that LCMs are ‘Arms,’ within the meaning of the Second Amendment’s text,” Judge McConnel highlighted in his order. “Moreover, even were they ‘arms,’ the plaintiffs have failed to prove that LCMs are weapons relating to self-defense. There is no Second Amendment violation from the LCM Ban because of those two shortfalls of persuasion.”

When the First Circuit panel reviewed the decision, it assumed without ruling that magazines are “arms’ ‘ but that limiting their possession based on capacity aligned with the nation’s historical tradition of firearms regulation. Judge Kayatta wrote the majority opinion noting that there was “no directly on-point tradition” of placing limits on magazine capacity. By contrast, he alluded to other historical firearm restrictions. Although the Supreme Court placed greater emphasis on Founding-era gun control restrictions in the Bruen decision, the panel concentrated mostly on 19th-century knife prohibitions implemented by several states and the 1934 National Firearms Act to make its decision.

“In sum, the burden on self-defense imposed by HB 6614 is no greater than the burdens of longstanding, permissible arms regulations, and its justification compares favorably with the justification for prior bans on other arms found to pose growing threats to public safety,” Kayatta stated.

The ruling allows the Rhode Island state government to continue enforcing its  magazine prohibition. The plaintiffs still have the option of appealing the decision or going back to the district court to argue the case on its merits.

Litigation will be the only option for gun owners in Rhode Island. After all, it’s a state that’s ranked in a terrible 43rd place according to Guns   & Ammo best states for gun owners rankings. There’s no hope for pro-gun legislation to be passed at the state level. In the meantime, gun owners will have to use the courts to make any reforms possible.

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