Second Amendment supporters may want to remember the saying, “As California Goes, so Goes the Nation,” after a federal judge overturned the Golden State’s three-decade-old ban on so-called “assault weapons” on Thursday. U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez, of San Diego, found no equivalent in early American history and ruled that the ban was therefore unconstitutional.
The judge further ruled that the semiautomatic rifle – known in the industry as “modern sporting rifles” – such as the AR-15 are common household items used for self-defense by millions of law-abiding citizens, who should not have their Second Amendment rights abridged by a state – even as the firearms have been misused by others in crimes including mass shootings.
“Guns and ammunition in the hands of criminals, tyrants and terrorists are dangerous; guns in the hands of law-abiding responsible citizens are necessary,” Benitez wrote in his ruling. “To give full life to the core right of self-defense, every law-abiding responsible individual citizen has a constitutionally protected right to keep and bear firearms commonly owned and kept for lawful purposes.”
Benitez, who previously overturned the ban, added, “The State of California posits that its ‘assault weapon’ ban, the law challenged here, promotes an important public interest of disarming some mass shooters even though it makes criminals of law-abiding residents who insist on acquiring these firearms for self-defense. Nevertheless, more than that is required to uphold a ban.”
He cited the Supreme Court’s ruling against a New York gun control law last year in his decision to overturn the California measure, which was first implemented in 1989.
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This is actually the second decision against California’s gun restrictions to come from Benitez in recent weeks. Just last month, he overturned the state’s ban on large-capacity ammunition magazines on similar grounds.
Benitez had previously ruled against the California law in 2021, but an appeals court vacated that ruling and later ordered the federal judge to review the law again with the new context from the Supreme Court’s 2022 New York case – New York State Rifle & Pistol Assn. Inc. vs. Bruen.
In that case, the nation’s highest court rejected the long-standing pillar of Second Amendment law, namely that the government may enforce certain firearms restrictions if there is a compelling government interest in doing so. The Supreme Court found that most restrictions on firearms can be legitimate only if they are deeply rooted in American history or analogous to some historical rule.
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals had sent the case decided Thursday back down to Benitez, specifically to decide in light of the Bruen decision.
In his ruling, Benitez compared the AR-15 to Bowie knives.
“Like the Bowie Knife which was commonly carried by citizens and soldiers in the 1800s, ‘assault weapons’ are dangerous, but useful. But unlike the Bowie Knife, the United States Supreme Court has said, ‘(t)here is a long tradition of widespread lawful gun ownership by private individuals in this country,'” Benitez wrote.
Disapproval From Some
Not surprisingly, there was disapproval over the ruling from California’s Governor Gavin Newsom, who called it a “direct insult to every victim of a mass shooting and their families.”
“Californians’ elected representatives decided almost 35 years ago that weapons of war have no place in our communities. Today, Judge Benitez decided that he knows better, public safety be damned,” Newsom said in a statement.
“Weapons of war have no place on California’s streets,” added California Attorney General Rob Bonta.
“This has been state law in California for decades, and we will continue to fight for our authority to keep our citizens safe from firearms that cause mass casualties,” Bonta vowed. “In the meantime, assault weapons remain unlawful for purchase, transfer, or possession in California. The Supreme Court was clear that Bruen did not create a regulatory straitjacket for states. Once again, this district court issued a dangerous and misguided decision and I will work vigorously to reverse it on appeal. We will not stop in our efforts to protect the safety of communities to live without fear of becoming victims of gun violence, while at the same time respecting the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding gun owners.”
Judge Benitez stayed his injunction for 10 days in order to give the state an opportunity to appeal. Bonta has already filed such a notice of appeal. It is now likely this case – like Bruen – could find its way to the highest court in the land.
Author Experience and Expertise
A Senior Editor for 19FortyFive, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.