Divided Circuit Staunchly Backs New Jersey Ammunition Limit

PHILADELPHIA (CN) — Upholding a law that limits gun owners from carrying magazines with more than 10 rounds of ammunition, the Third Circuit ruled 2-1 Wednesday that the national rise in mass shootings justifies this reasonable burden on the Second Amendment.

New Jersey adopted the ban here on LCMs, short for large-capacity magazines, this past June, prompting a challenge from two individual gun owners and the Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs. They appealed for a reversal after a federal judge denied them an injunction, but the Philadelphia-based Third Circuit sided with the state as well, noting the logical basis for limiting how much ammunition a firearm can hold.

“LCMs allow for more shots to be fired from a single weapon and thus more casualties to occur when they are used,” U.S. Circuit Judge Patty Shwartz wrote Wednesday for the majority. “By prohibiting LCMs, the act reduces the number of shots that can be fired from one gun, making numerous injuries less likely.”

Though the gun owners tried to paint mass shootings as rare incidents, Shwartz emphasized that the evidence tells a different story and that in fact such an argument “downplays the significant increase in the frequency and lethality of these incidents.”

In a ruling brimming with 32 lengthy citations, Shwartz noted “that pre-2015, there was never a year with more than five gun massacres, and 2015 had seven ‘massacres’ as defined by Mother Jones.”

Shwartz also balked at the assertion by the challengers of Act A6721 that no mass shooting has ever occurred in New Jersey.

“Just days after the act was passed, a mass shooter injured twenty-two individuals and killed one at an arts festival in Trenton,” the 43-page ruling states. “Even if this event had not occurred, ‘New Jersey need not wait for its own high-fatality gun massacre before curtailing access to LCMs.’”

From 2006 to 2015 mass shootings increased by 160 percent from the prior decade, according to the ruling. When New Jersey passed Act A6721, it became the ninth state to reduce the ammo limit from 15 rounds to 10.

“The record here provides a basis to conclude that the act would achieve New Jersey’s goal to protect public safety and reduce the lethality of active and mass shootings,” Shwartz wrote. “As we have already explained, the evidence shows that pauses in shooting, which would occur if a shooter needs to reload because he lacks an LCM, save lives.”

Though representatives for the state did not return an email seeking comment, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal applauded Wednesday’s ruling on Twitter, calling it a “big win for public safety and law enforcement safety.”

The law firms Cooper & Kirk and Hartman & Winnicki represented the gun group, which has not responded to an email seeking comment.

Judge Shwartz was joined in the majority by U.S. Circuit Judge Joseph Greenaway, a fellow Obama appointee. Writing in dissent, the Trump-appointed U.S. Circuit Judge Stephanos Bibas accused his colleagues of “substitut[ing] anecdotes and armchair reasoning for the concrete proof that we demand for heightened scrutiny anywhere else.”

“New Jersey has introduced no expert study of how similar magazine restrictions have worked elsewhere,” Bibas wrote. “Nor did the District Court identify any other evidence, as opposed to armchair reasoning, that illuminated how this law will reduce the harm from mass shootings. So New Jersey cannot win unless the burden of proof lies with the challengers. It does not.”

In upholding the ammunition limit as reasonable, Shwartz disputed that the right to self-defense entitles a gun owner to carry large-capacity magazines.

“The prohibition on LCMS does not disarm an individual,” the 43-page lead opinion states. “While the Act does limit access to one tool — magazines that hold over ten rounds — it imposes no limit on the number of firearms or magazines or amount of ammunition a person may lawfully possess. In any event, the record does not show that LCMs are well-suited or safe for self-defense.”

The law has a 180-day grace period, set to end this month, for gun owners to turn in the now illegal magazines or modify their existing ones.

Shwartz rejected the Fifth Amendment challenge to this aspect of the law. She said that rather than require gun owners to surrender their magazines, the law “instead allows them to retain modified magazines or register firearms that have magazines that cannot be modified.”

“Finally, because retired law enforcement officers have training and experience that makes them different from ordinary citizens, the law’s exemption that permits them to possess magazines that can hold more than ten rounds does not violate the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause,” the ruling continues.

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