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Federal judge once again deems California's 'assault weapons' ban unconstitutional, noting 'guns in the hands of law-abiding responsible citizens are necessary'
John J. Kim/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Federal judge once again deems California's 'assault weapons' ban unconstitutional, noting 'guns in the hands of law-abiding responsible citizens are necessary'

A federal judge ruled Thursday against California's so-called "assault weapons" ban, reaffirming law-abiding citizens' right to defend themselves in the crime-ridden Democrat-run state.

U.S. District Court Judge Roger Benitez stressed once again that the ban and related statutes were unconstitutional, serving not only to trample Americans' Second Amendment rights but also to leave them outgunned by criminals to whom such laws mean nothing.

The background

The Roberti-Roos Assault Weapons Control Act of 1989 made it such than any firearm on a list specified in the state's penal code was considered an "assault weapon." Such firearms became illegal to purchase, keep for sale, offer for sale, expose for sale, give, lend, manufacture, distribute, or import. Additional prohibitions were built atop this act over time.

Benitez previously struck down the ban in 2021, noting, "Like the Swiss Army Knife, the popular AR-15 rifle is a perfect combination of home defense weapon and homeland defense equipment. ... Yet, the State of California makes it a crime to have an AR-15 type rifle. Therefore, this Court declares the California statutes to be unconstitutional."

State Attorney General Rob Bonta appealed the ruling and petitioned for a stay. The Ninth Circuit subsequently put a hold on Benitez's ruling. Following the U.S. Supreme Court's 2022 reaffirmation of Americans' Second Amendment Rights in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. v. Bruen, the Ninth Circuit remanded the case back to the federal district court on Aug. 1, 2022.

This week, Benitez ruled on the remanded case.

The ruling

Judge Benitez's Thursday decision greatly resembled his previous ruling, although this time around he opted for a Bowie knife in his opening metaphor contra the Swiss Army knife from before.

"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,'" wrote Benitez.

"The American tradition is rich and deep in protecting a citizen's enduring right to keep and bear common arms like rifles, shotguns, and pistols," continued the judge. "The 'assault weapon' prohibition has no historical pedigree and it is extreme."

The judge, who just weeks ago ruled against California's high-capacity magazine ban, also noted that law-abiding Americans have an interest in not being "outgunned" by the state's many criminals, particularly when "crime happens a lot."

Benitez also noted that those seeking to trample the Second Amendment tend to focus on stories of criminal gun use, but neglect the millions of instances in which law-abiding citizens use firearms to save innocent lives and restore order.

In his conclusion, Benitez wrote, "The State's attempt to ban these popular firearms creates the extreme policy that a handful of criminals can dictate the conduct and infringe on the freedom of law-abiding citizens. ... There is only one policy enshrined in the Bill of Rights. Guns and ammunition in the hands of criminals, tyrants and terrorists are dangerous; guns in the hands of law-abiding responsible citizens are necessary."

Deeming the ban unconstitutional, he struck it down. Benitez did, however, grant the state 10 days to seek a stay from the Court of Appeals.

The reaction

Gov. Newsom called the ruling "radical," suggesting that Benitez's comparison of a rifle to a Bowie knife "is 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," continued Newsom. "Judge Benitez is hellbent on making it more dangerous for our kids to go to school, for families to go to the mall, or to attend a place of worship. We are working with Attorney General Rob Bonta to fight this extreme and logically incoherent ruling and keep California safer, but we should not have to go get Judge Benitez overturned every time he decides to write a love letter to the gun lobby."

Bonta claimed in a statement that the decision was "dangerous and misguided," vowing to "work vigorously to reverse it on appeal."

John Dillon, an attorney for the pro-Constitution plaintiffs who sued to overturn the ban, indicated his clients were "very happy" about the decision, reported the Los Angeles Times.

"It seems like the court has applied the standards properly and correctly. There's no doubt about it," said Dillon. "We're glad that our plaintiffs' rights are going to be respected."

According to the CATO Institute's "Freedom in the 50 States" index, California is second-last in the country in terms of gun rights.

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