March 30 (UPI) -- A federal judge has struck down a pending California law that bans high-capacity gun magazines as unconstitutional.
In 2016, voters approved Proposition 63, which strengthened state gun laws by requiring anyone who owned such magazines to turn them in, remake them to comply with the law or send them out of state. A 2000 law had already made it illegal for Californians to buy or sell magazines that hold more than 10 cartridges.
But in a ruling Friday, San Diego-based U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez wrote the proposition "hits at the center of the Second Amendment and its burden is severe."
"Individual liberty and freedom are not outmoded concepts," he wrote in the 86-page decision.
Benitez had issued a statewide injunction against it two days before the legislation's start date in July 2017.
The proposition was approved after two shooters killed 14 people and wounded 17 in a San Bernardino rampage.
The judge noted mass shootings are "tragic," but more common crimes sometimes require maximum firepower because "unless a law-abiding individual has a firearm for his or her own defense, the police typically arrive after it is too late. The size limit [on magazines] directly impairs one's ability to defend one's self," he wrote.
State Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement Friday obtained by the San Francisco Chronicle that "we are committed to defending California's common sense gun laws -- we are reviewing the decision and will evaluate next steps."
The ruling can be appealed to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, which has upheld gun-control laws. The next level is the U.S. Supreme Court.
Chuck Michel, president of the California Rifle & Pistol Association, filed the suit along with several gun owners.
The National Rifle Association applauded the decision.
Chris W. Cox, the executive director of the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action, said the ruling was "huge win for gun owners" and a "landmark recognition of what courts have too often treated as a disfavored right."
"Judge Benitez took the Second Amendment seriously and came to the conclusion required by the Constitution," Cox said. "The same should be true of any court analyzing a ban on a class of arms law-abiding Americans commonly possess for self-defense or other lawful purposes."
The Giffords Law Center filed an amicus brief in opposition to the NRA suit.
Ari Freilich, an attorney with the Giffords Law Center, told the Chronicle the ruling was "not unexpected, given who the judge is."
Benitz is an appointee of Republican President George W. Bush.
The judge didn't rule on other aspects of the proposition, which includes background checks for ammunition purchases, reporting requirements for lost firearms and new legal procedures for confiscating guns from people prohibited from owning them.