Federal Judge Declares California’s Assault Weapons Ban Unconstitutional

Originally published October 20, 2023 12:32 pm PDT

In a landmark ruling on Thursday, U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez deemed California’s 33-year-old ban on assault weapons as unconstitutional.

He referenced the Second Amendment’s guarantee to “keep and bear arms” and invoked the Supreme Court’s 2022 verdict in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association, Inc. v. Bruen.

This ruling indicated that firearm restrictions need to align with the country’s “historical tradition of firearm regulation.”

Drawing a parallel from the past, Judge Benitez stated, “Like the Bowie Knife which was commonly carried by citizens and soldiers in the 1800s, ‘assault weapons’ are dangerous, but useful.”

He highlighted a significant distinction, noting the Supreme Court’s position, saying that there is a “long tradition of widespread lawful gun ownership by private individuals in this country.”

The judge argued against the 1989 legislation which barred the possession of certain high-capacity semi-automatic rifles in California.

Benitez opined that the law essentially allows “a handful of criminals can dictate the conduct and infringe on the freedom of law-abiding citizens.”

Drawing attention to the state’s reaction, he remarked, “California’s answer to the criminal misuse of a few is to disarm its many good residents. That knee-jerk reaction is constitutionally untenable, just as it was 250 years ago.”

However, California Attorney General Rob Bonta promptly responded to Judge Benitez’s ruling by filing an appeal, calling the decision “dangerous and misguided.”

In a press release, Bonta affirmed, “Weapons of war have no place on California’s streets,” emphasizing the state’s long-standing position.

“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,” he said.

Acknowledging Bonta’s concerns, Judge Benitez has granted a stay on his ruling pending a review by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

Thus, the existing restrictions on assault weapons in California will stay in place.

It’s worth noting that this isn’t the first time Judge Benitez has rendered a verdict on this issue.

In 2021, he declared the assault weapon ban unconstitutional, only to have the 9th Circuit set aside the decision, instructing a reevaluation in the context of the 2022 Supreme Court ruling.

The case came before Judge Benitez due to a lawsuit spearheaded by organizations like the San Diego County Gun Owners Political Action Committee, California Gun Rights Foundation, Second Amendment Foundation, and the Firearms Policy Coalition.

This lawsuit is one among several against California’s rigorous gun control measures, which have inspired discussions at the federal level.

In response to the ruling, California Governor Gavin Newsom (D) expressed his disapproval, labeling it “radical” and asserting that Benitez’s analogy between rifles and Bowie knives “is a direct insult to every victim of a mass shooting and their families.”

Newsom’s statement further read, “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.”

John Dillon, representing the plaintiffs challenging the ban, expressed satisfaction with the judgment, as reported by The Los Angeles Times.

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