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Fed. judge rules California’s AR-15 ‘assault weapons’ ban unconstitutional

An AR-15 build, magazines and Federal ammunition. (docmonstereyes/Flickr)
June 05, 2021

On Friday, a federal judge in California ruled the state’s “assault weapons” ban, which prohibited the sale of standard AR-15 style rifles and magazines with an ammunition capacity over 10 rounds, unconstitutional.

California’s Assault Weapons Control Act of 1989 had banned numerous firearms models by name and any semiautomatic, centerfire rifle that have the capacity to accept a detachable magazine in addition to one or more other features including a “pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the weapon,” a thumbhole stock or collapsable stock. The law also prohibited magazines with an ammunition capacity beyond 10 rounds.

From the start of his decision in the case of Miller vs Bonta, Judge Roger T. Benitez, of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, said, “Like the Swiss Army Knife, the popular AR-15 rifle is a perfect combination of home defense weapon and homeland defense equipment. Good for both home and battle, the AR-15 is the kind of versatile gun that lies at the intersection of the kinds of firearms protected under District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008) and United States v Miller, 307 U.S. 174 (1939). Yet, the State of California makes it a crime to have an AR15 type rifle. Therefore, this Court declares the California statutes to be unconstitutional.”

Benitez, who was nominated to the court by President George W. Bush, said, “This case is not about extraordinary weapons lying at the outer limits of Second Amendment protection. 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.”

Benitez said, “A ban on modern rifles has no historical pedigree.
Prior to the 1990’s, there was no national history of banning weapons because they were equipped with furniture like pistol grips, collapsible stocks, flash hiders, flare launchers, or barrel shrouds. In fact, prior to California’s 1989 ban, so-called assault weapons were lawfully manufactured, acquired, and possessed throughout the United States.”

The judge said each of the features banned under California’s law could be reasonably used by a homeowner under durress in a home invasion scenario.

“Standard size magazines are ubiquitous. With the physiological stress of waking to the noise of home invaders, one may need many rounds to overcome the difficulty of aiming in the dark at multiple attackers making furtive movements,” Benitez’ decision reads. “The adjustable stock can be quickly set for one’s arm length. The pistol grip gives a homeowner a secure hold with one hand while the other hand holds a telephone or spare magazine.”

While declaring California’s law unconstitutional, Benitez included a 30-day stay on the ruling, which would allow Attorney General Rob Bonta to appeal the decision.

Bonta has vowed to appeal the decision.

“There is no sound basis in law, fact or common sense for equating assault rifles with Swiss Army knives — especially on Gun Violence Awareness Day and after the recent shootings in our own California communities,” Bonta said, according to the New York Times.

Gun rights activists celebrated the decision on Friday.

Brandon Combs, the president of the Firearms Policy Coalition (FPC) which helped bring the lawsuit forward, said, “In his order today, Judge Benitez held what millions of Americans already know to be true: Bans on so-called ‘assault weapons’ are unconstitutional and cannot stand. This historic victory for individual liberty is just the beginning, and FPC will continue to aggressively challenge these laws throughout the United States. We look forward to continuing this challenge at the Ninth Circuit and, should it be necessary, the Supreme Court.”

Alan Gottlieb, the president of the Second Amendment Foundation which also helped move the lawsuit forward, said, “Judge Benitez has shredded California gun control laws regarding modern semi-automatic rifles. It is clear the judge did his homework on this ruling, and we are delighted with the outcome.”

Democrat California Gov. Gavin Newsom criticized the judges decision on Friday.

Newsom said, “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.”