For more than thirty years the State of California has banned so-called “assault weapons,” but U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez of San Diego overturned the law recently, ruling that the ban violated the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms.
“Like the Swiss Army Knife, the popular AR-15 rifle is a perfect combination of home defense weapon and homeland defense equipment. Good for home and battle,” wrote Benitez in his ruling. “Yet, the State of California makes it a crime to have an AR-15 type rifle. Therefore, this court declares the Californian statues to be unconstitutional.”
In his ninety-four-page decision, the District Court Judge also took aim at the way the media has covered the firearm in reporting, “One is to be forgiven if one is persuaded by news media and others that the nation is awash with murderous AR-15 assault rifles. The facts, however, do not support this hyperbole, and facts matter.”
Benitez cited precedents including District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008) and United States v
Miller, 307 U.S. 174 (1939), and noted, “The Supreme Court clearly holds that the Second Amendment protects guns commonly owned by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes.”
The judge further took issue with the term “assault rifle,” and suggested it was misleading for the AR-15 to be described as such.
“The banned ‘assault weapons’ are not bazookas, howitzers, or machineguns. Those arms are dangerous and solely useful for military purposes. Instead, the firearms deemed “assault weapons” are fairly ordinary, popular, modern rifles. This is an average case about average guns used in average ways for average purposes.”
In his decision, Benitez also offered insight into the use of “rifles” in the use of crimes. “Federal Bureau of Investigation murder statistics do not track assault rifles, but they do show that killing by knife attack is far more common than murder by any kind of rifle. In California, murder by knife occurs seven times more often than murder by rifle.”
Benitez granted a 30-day stay while the state appeals.
The Havana-born judge, who is seventy years old, has been seen by some as a friend to the gun lobby, especially after he previously ruled against the state’s ban on the sale and possession of firearms magazines that can hold more than ten rounds. He was nominated to California’s Southern District bench by former President George W. Bush in 2003.
Gun Control Advocates Respond
Not surprisingly, many supporters for gun control called out the decision. This included Kris Brown, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, who issued a statement, “It’s a horrible decision, but it’s also par for the course.”
California’s Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom also slammed the decision in a statement.
“Today’s decision is a direct threat to public safety and the lives of innocent Californians, period,” wrote Newsom. “As the son of a judge, I grew up with deep respect for the judicial process and the importance of a judge’s ability to make impartial fact-based rulings, but the fact that this judge compared the AR-15 – a weapon of war that’s used on the battlefield – to a Swiss Army Knife completely undermines the credibility of this decision and is a slap in the face to the families who’ve lost loved ones to this weapon. We’re not backing down from this fight, and we’ll continue pushing for common sense gun laws that will save lives.”
Even as California will likely appeal, the National Rifle Association called last week’s ruling a victory for supporters of the Second Amendment.
“Judge Benitez highlighted what all gun owners know: these types of restrictive gun laws don’t make anyone safer and infringe on the rights of law-abiding Americans,” NRA spokesperson Lars Dalseide said in a statement. “We look forward to the positive impact this ruling will have on current and future Second Amendment cases.”
Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com.