Federal judge again strikes down California's assault weapons ban

A U.S. district judge has for a second ruled against California's ban on assault rifles, saying it is unconstitutional. Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI
A U.S. district judge has for a second ruled against California's ban on assault rifles, saying it is unconstitutional. Photo by Bill Greenblatt/UPI | License Photo

Oct. 19 (UPI) -- A federal judge who struck down California's assault weapons ban in 2021 has again overturned the state's prohibition, stating the law was still unconstitutional.

U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez of the Southern District of California issued his ruling Thursday, stating that while weapons, such as the infamous AR-15, are favored by some criminals and frequently used in mass shooting, the ban prevents law-abiding citizens from arming themselves with the same modern weapons for their own self-defense.


Benitez continued by stating that while the public has heard of mass shootings involving these California-banned weapons, they do not hear when the same model of gun has been used by a pregnant woman to defend her family or a 61-year-old man who prevented a home invasion -- and that the ban would have deprived them of that protection.

"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," Benitez wrote. "California's answer to the criminal misuse of a few is to disarm its many good residents."


The state's attorney general, Rob Bonta, has already filed an appeal, arguing in a statement that "weapons of war" have no placed on California streets where the ban has been the law of the land for decades.

"We will continue to fight for our authority to keep our citizens safe from firearms that cause mass casualties," he said.

California banned the ownership of assault rifles in 1989 via the state's legislature with an act that has been repeatedly amended to increase the number of weapons it applies to.

Gun rights groups, including the Firearms Policy Coalition, filed a complaint against the law in 2019, with Benitez siding with them in 2021.

Amid the appeal process, litigation over the ban returned to his bench by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit for it to be reconsidered following the Supreme Court ruling of June 2022 that restricts what limits states can place on gun ownership. And Benitez, again, found it unconstitutional.

"Today's opinion is yet another thorough demonstration of the unconstitutional nature of these types of bans on constitutionally protected arms," Cody Wisniewski, general counsel and vice president of legal at Firearms Policy Policy, said in a statement.


"We're elated that the court has recognized that California's ban flies directly in the face of peaceable individuals' constitutionally protected right to keep and bear arms, and we look forward to continuing to demonstrate that point in courtrooms in California and across the country."

Thursday's ruling by Benitez -- who also struck down a California law banning high-capacity gun magazines in 2019 and again last month -- mirrors the one he issued in 2021 as both begin by comparing assault rifles to knifes, specifically a Swiss Army knife in the first ruling and a bowie knife in the second.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom ripped into the decision on Thursday, calling the comparison "a direct insult to every victim of a mass shooting and their families."

"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," the democratic governor said in a statement.

"We are working with Attorney General Rob Bonta to fight this extreme and logically incoherent ruling and keep California safer."

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