A ruling by a Fresno judge tossing out a state law requiring handgun ammunition buyers to provide identification and a thumbprint was upheld Wednesday by a Fresno appellate court.
The ruling was hailed as a victory by gun rights advocates, some of whom expect California Attorney General Kamala Harris to take the issue to the state Supreme Court.
Her office had a muted reaction. "Our office is reviewing the decision," said Nick Pacilio, a spokesman for Harris.
Key elements of the law were thrown out in January 2011 by Fresno County Superior Court Judge Jeff Hamilton, who said the law would have created uncertainty by forcing local sheriffs and firearms shops to decide for themselves what caliber of cartridges were covered under the law.
The appellate ruling, written by Associate Justice Gene Gomes of the 5th District Court of Appeal, cited the vagueness of the law, which he said violated due process portions of the U.S. Constitution. Associate Justice Stephen Kane concurred.
Gomes wrote that the law failed "to provide meaningful guidelines or discernible standards," for deciding what is and what is not handgun ammunition and that created "significant risk of arbitrary and discriminatory application by law enforcement officials."
In a dissent, Associate Justice Dennis Cornell cited former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's statement when he signed the bill into law. Schwarzenegger said having information about who was buying handgun ammunition "is invaluable for keeping communities safe and preventing dangerous felons from committing crimes with firearms."
Cornell said the law would have a minimal burden on Second Amendment rights and not have a "substantial impact on the ammunition vendors' pursuit of lawful business."
The decision was hailed by Barry Bauer of Herb Bauer Sporting Goods in Fresno, who was a co-plaintiff in the suit that Hamilton ruled on.
"We're very happy with the ruling," he said. "There's a lot of good language in it."
Sam Paredes, executive director of Gun Owners of California, called the ruling a "huge victory for us. The law was definitely illegal and unconstitutional."
Paredes said the law "wouldn't even be a speed bump for criminals. It would give them an excuse for a road trip to Nevada," where they could buy all of the handgun ammunition they wanted.
"And the state will lose all of the sales tax from ammunition sales here," he added.
The Attorney General's office did not return calls seeking comment.
The handgun ammunition purchase law was introduced by state Sen. Kevin de Leon, D-Los Angeles. When Hamilton struck the law down, de Leon called the action "deplorable." In December 2012, de Leon vowed to expand the purchase requirements to all ammunition buyers -- not just handgun cartridges -- to circumvent the decision. He introduced a bill to do so but it will not be voted on until 2014.
Confusion about what constitutes a handgun cartridge is compounded because several cartridges -- including the .44 Magnum and the .45 Long Colt -- are popular carbine rounds.
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