A federal judge again rules that California’s assault weapons ban is unconstitutional

Three variants of the AR-15 assault rifle are on display at the California Department of Justice in Sacramento.

FILE — In this Aug. 15, 2012, file photo, three variants of the AR-15 assault rifle are shown at the California Department of Justice in Sacramento, California. California will give gun owners more time to register their legal assault weapons under a settlement Thursday, March 18, 2021, over what critics accused of the state’s botched registration system in 2018. The settlement with the attorney general’s office means that no owners will be held liable for missing the July 1, 2018 registration deadline. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, file)

A federal judge again rules that California’s assault weapons ban is unconstitutional

California politics, homepage news

Kevin Rector

Oct. 19, 2023

A federal judge on Thursday overturned California’s three-decade-old ban on assault weapons, ruling that it has no equivalent in early American history and is therefore unconstitutional.

U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez of San Diego ruled that modern semiautomatic rifles such as the AR-15 are common household items used by millions of law-abiding citizens in the U.S. for self-defense, and those citizens may not have their second weapon. Amendment rights are abridged by the state simply because others can misuse the same weapons in mass shootings and other deadly violence.

“Weapons 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. “To fully realize the core right of self-defense, every law-abiding, responsible individual citizen has a constitutionally protected right to keep and carry firearms that are publicly owned and kept for lawful purposes.”

The decision was expected from Benitez, who previously struck down the law in a 2021 decision in which he famously compared the AR-15 to regular knives, an analogy he revived on Thursday.

“Like the Bowie knife often carried by civilians and soldiers in the nineteenth century,” Benitez’s final decision begins, “‘assault weapons’ are dangerous, but useful.”

Benitez’s decision would overturn several state statutes regarding such weapons but would not take effect immediately. As part of his decision, Benitez gave the state ten days to request a stay of the ruling as part of an appeal to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

John Dillon, an attorney for the plaintiffs who sued to overturn the law, said they were “very happy” with the decision and prepared to keep fighting to preserve it if the state appeals.

“It appears that the court applied the standards well and correctly. There is no doubt about that,” he said. “We are pleased that our claimants’ rights are being respected.”

The ruling is Benitez’s second recent decision against gun restrictions in California. Last month, he overturned the state’s ban on large-capacity ammunition magazines on similar grounds.

Benitez’s ruling is also just the latest blow to gun restrictions nationally since the Supreme Court’s monumental ruling last summer in the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. case. vs. Bruen.

In that case, the nation’s highest court rejected a longstanding pillar of the Second Amendment law, which says governments can impose certain firearms restrictions if they have a compelling government interest to do so. Instead, the Supreme Court said that for restrictions on firearms to be legitimate, they must be deeply rooted in American history or analogous to a historical rule.

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals had sent the case decided Thursday back to Benitez specifically to be decided in light of the Bruen decision.

Benitez rejected all of the state’s arguments as to why the ban should remain intact, accusing the state of “grasping at straws” and making “long-term” legal arguments as to why there was historical precedent for such restrictions. “The state has not identified a single national tradition of firearms regulation that is as broad in scope or as far-reaching in effect as the extreme ‘assault weapon statutes,’” Benitez wrote. Whether the ban will fare better in higher courts, including the U.S. 9th? The Circuit Court of Appeals and the U.S. Supreme Court remain to be seen, but experts say the law and others like it across the country face a difficult road ahead. TIMING VIS-A-VIS HIGH-CAPACITY MAGAZINE DECISION Even before the Bruen decision, Benitez challenged the validity of California’s assault weapons ban, writing in his latest 2021 decision that the AR-15 is similar to a Swiss Army knife. The state appealed this decision to the 9th Circuit, which remanded the case to Benitez for reconsideration after Bruen was decided. Benitez’s decision XXDAYXX was even more forceful in its rejection of the ban. XXXX The lead plaintiff in the case, James Miller, is a board member of the San Diego County Gun Owners Political Action Committee, which is also listed. Prosecutor. In the initial 2019 complaint, Miller alleged that the state’s assault weapons ban improperly prevented him from using a high-capacity magazine with his legally owned semiautomatic centerfire rifle because doing so would reclassify the firearm as a prohibited “assault weapon.” under Miller “would like to exercise his rights guaranteed by the Second Amendment to keep and bear arms, by owning a semi-automatic centerfire rifle, which is in general use for lawful purposes, but which the State possesses solely by virtue of this law considers an ‘assault weapon’. of its magazine capacity,” the complaint read.XXXX


Tara Gallegos: 916-201-8227 Rishi Khalsa: 916-210-6039

Plaintiffs Lawyers:

Erik Scott [email protected] [email protected] Montgomery [email protected]


Giffords Law Center Jennifer [email protected]


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