Judge Annuls California’s Ban on Assault Weapons
A three-decade-old ban on assault weapons has been reversed by a California federal judge’s ruling that it violates the constitutional right to bear arms.
In a decision that potentially places every Californian life in jeopardy, San Diego District Judge Roger Benitez concluded that the definition of illegal military-style rifles imposed by the state is unjustified. The current law places infringement on the rights of California residents because those people have the right to buy military-style rifles legally in other states and by the U.S. Supreme Court.
California Governor Gavin Newsom Newsom called the ruling “a threat to public safety and the lives of innocent Californians, period.”
The judge issued a permanent injunction, preventing the enforcement of the law, but allowed it to remain in place for 30 days to give state Attorney General Rob Bonta time to appeal.
“Under no level of heightened scrutiny can the law survive,” Benitez said.
The judge praised modern weapons, saying they were used predominantly for legal purposes. The popular AR-15 rifle is the Swiss Army knife of home defense weapons and homeland defense equipment. The judge ruled in favor of both home and battle readiness.
This ruling is a slap in the face to the families who have lost loved ones, Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a statement. “We will not relent in our mission to pass common-sense gun laws and save lives.”
Additionally, California enacted legislation banning assault weapons in 1989 with multiple subsequent amendments.
More dangerous firearms, especially assault weapons, are disproportionately used in a crime, mass shootings, and attacks on law enforcement, according to the state attorney general, and barring these weapons furthers the state’s important public safety interests.
Notably, in the last year, 33% of these other firearms sold went to people who had not purchased them before, indicating that the assault weapons ban “has not prevented law-abiding citizens in the state from acquiring a range of firearms for lawful purposes, including self-defense,” the state argues in a March filing.
Six other federal district and appeals courts previously have upheld restrictions on assault weapons. Should the ban be overturned, only assault rifles would be allowed, the state officials said. Judge Benitez disagreed.
This case is not about bizarre weapons at the edges of Second Amendment protection. No bazookas, howitzers, or machine guns.“Those arms are solely for military purposes,” his ruling said.
Because of California’s ban, there are about 185,569 assault weapons registered with the state.
This was a run-of-the-mill case, which revolved around typical guns and typical applications. It is forgiven if one believes media reports that the country is overrun with dangerous AR-15 assault rifles.
The facts, however, contradict this hyperbole, and facts matter.
“Knife murders in California occur seven times more often than rifle murders,” he said.
In a preliminary ruling issued in September, Benitez said that California’s complicated legal definition of assault weapons could ensnare otherwise law-abiding gun owners, stripping them of their Second Amendment right to own firearms.
“Although the weapons could still be used, they could not be used with the modifications that turn them into assault weapons,” the state asserted. A shorter barrel and collapsible stock make them more concealable, state officials say, while a pistol grip or thumbhole grip improves their accuracy as they are fired rapidly.
This lawsuit, along with several others filed by gun advocacy groups, challenges California’s firearms laws, which are among the most restrictive in the nation.
Following mass shootings with military-style rifles, the lawsuit was filed in August 2019.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of gun owners who want to use high-capacity magazines in their legal rifles or pistols, but state law prohibits this. Semi-automatic rifles fire one bullet each time the trigger is pulled. These are not “military rifles.”
The lawsuit claims that California is the only state to ban the majority of the most popular semi-automatic firearms in the nation because they have one or more characteristics in common, like pistol grips and threaded barrels.
The state has appealed Benitez’s 2017 ruling in which he rejected the state’s nearly two-decade-old magazine restriction. That ruling started a one-week buying spree until the appeal was halted. A three-judge appellate panel upheld the ruling in August, but the 9th Circuit rehearsals the case with an 11-judge panel.
The state is appealing Benitez’s decision in April 2020, blocking a 2019 California law requiring background checks for anyone purchasing ammunition.
Federal Judge Overturns California's Ban on Assault Weapons