Would-be gun buyers in California hoping to be able to buy a new AR-style rifle may have to wait a little longer. The state’s ban of so-called assault weapons, which has been in place since 1989, remains in place after a federal appeals court put on hold a federal judge’s ruling that overturned the decade’s old ban.
On Monday, the United States 9th Circuit Court of Appeals blocked U.S. District for the Southern District of California Judge Roger T. Benitez’s order earlier this month that overturned the ban. Benitez, who compared the AR-15 to a Swiss Army Knife, said in a decision that the state law defining assault weapons and restricting their use was unconstitutional.
The state law was challenged in a 2019 lawsuit filed against California’s attorney general by multiple plaintiffs including James Miller, a resident of the Golden State and member of the San Diego County Guns Owners, a political action committee (PAC).
“Like the Swiss Army knife, the popular AR-15 rifle is a perfect combination of home defense weapon and homeland defense equipment,” Judge Benitez wrote in his 94-page decision.
Benitez also granted a thirty-day stay of the ruling, which allowed Rob Bonta, the state’s current attorney general, to file an appeal. In his appeal, Bonta called Benitez’s ruling “fundamentally flawed.”
The three-judge panel on the federal appeals court issued a stay and as a result, the current assault weapon laws will remain in effect while further proceedings continue. According to The New York Times, the three judges were Senior Circuit Court Judge Barry G. Silverman, nominated to the bench by President Bill Clinton; Circuit Judge Jacqueline H. Nguyen, nominated by President Barack Obama; and Circuit Judge Ryan D. Nelson, nominated by President Donald Trump.
“This leaves our assault weapons laws in effect while appellate proceedings continue,” Bonta posted on Twitter on Monday. “We won’t stop defending these life-saving laws.”
Not a Weapon of War
In his earlier ruling, Judge Benitez stated that the AR-15 and similar weapons shouldn’t be seen as weapons of war, and he wrote the AR and similar rifles are not “bazookas, howitzers or machine guns,” and added they are “fairly ordinary, popular, modern rifles.
Benitez also wrote that this case was about “what should be a muscular constitutional right and whether a state can force a gun policy choice that impinges on that right with a 30-year-old failed experiment. Government is not free to impose its own new policy choices on American citizens where constitutional rights are concerned.”
The 9th Circuit court said both parties will file a status update within fourteen days.
Benitez, who was nominated as a district court judge in 2003 by President George W. Bush and confirmed by the Senate the following year, has been seen as a supporter of Second Amendment rights. In 2017, Judge Benitez blocked a California law that would have banned magazines of more than ten rounds.
A three-judge panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit upheld his ruling in a split decision last year, but the appeals court said in February that an eleven-judge panel would rehear the case.
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.