By Jonathan Stempel
(Reuters) - New Jersey may enforce a new law that lowered the number of bullets that guns can hold, a divided federal appeals court ruled on Wednesday.
The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia upheld a lower court's refusal to temporarily enjoin the law, which was passed in June and reduced maximum magazine capacity to 10 rounds from a 15-round limit adopted in 1990.
Gun rights advocates including the Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs argued that the law would make it harder for homeowners to defend themselves, and might do little for gun violence because criminals would ignore it.
But the court said the law did not violate gun owners' Second Amendment rights or amount to an unconstitutional taking.
It also said an exemption letting retired law enforcement officers carry larger magazines did not deprive ordinary gun owners of equal protection.
"New Jersey's law reasonably fits the state's interest in public safety and does not unconstitutionally burden the Second Amendment's right to self-defense in the home," Circuit Judge Patty Shwartz wrote for the majority.
Circuit Judge Stephanos Bibas dissented, saying the majority was too deferential to New Jersey, which failed to offer "real evidence" that its law would reduce the risk of mass shootings and that similar magazine restrictions worked elsewhere.
Supporters of the law said magazine limits could reduce bloodshed by forcing shooters to reload more frequently.
Wednesday's decision upheld a Sept. 28 order by U.S. District Judge Peter Sheridan in Trenton, New Jersey.
Scott Bach, the New Jersey gun group's executive director, said the decision turns "one million honest citizens into felons for keeping property obtained legally that could be used for defending their lives," and would be appealed.
The office of New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal called the decision "a big win for public safety and the safety of our law enforcement officers."
According to Wednesday's opinions, nine states and Washington, D.C. have banned large capacity magazines, and several federal appeals courts have upheld such bans.
Wednesday's decision is "a real victory for public safety," said Hannah Shearer, a lawyer at the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, which supported New Jersey's law.
The center is named for former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head at a 2011 constituent meeting by the first bullet from a gunman's 33-round magazine, which was emptied. Six people died and 13 others were wounded.
The case is Association of New Jersey Rifle and Pistol Clubs Inc et al v Attorney General of New Jersey et al, 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 18-3170.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; editing by Marguerita Choy)