A federal judge overturned California’s ban on so-called assault weapons on Thursday, saying the three-decade-old prohibition against semi-automatic firearms violates the constitutional right to bear arms.
U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez of San Diego found that a handful of criminals cannot dictate the rules for millions of law-abiding American households who carry firearms like AR-15 rifles for self-defense.
“California’s answer to the criminal misuse of a few is to disarm its many good residents,” Benitez wrote in a 79-page ruling. “That knee-jerk reaction is constitutionally untenable, just as it was 250 years ago. The Second Amendment stands as a shield from government imposition of that policy.”
Benitez, an appointee of former President George W. Bush, ruled in favor of several gun advocacy groups who challenged the Assault Weapons Control Act and other state laws undermining the U.S. Constitution, which are some of the strictest in the nation.
John Dillon, an attorney for the plaintiffs who sued the state to overturn the law, praised the judge’s ruling as “constitutionally sound and addresses the many inadequacies of the State’s arguments and so-called justifications for this unconstitutional ban.”
“We will continue to fight for our Plaintiffs’ Second Amendment rights through any appeal until the State is forced to start respecting these rights,” Dillon said in a statement to The Associated Press.
California became the first U.S. state in 1989 to enact such a law after five children were killed in a school shooting.
Benitez reportedly struck down the law in 2021, calling California’s attempt to prohibit residents from purchasing certain firearms a “failed experiment,” and used his famous analogy by comparing the AR-15 to common knives. He reiterated that point again in the introduction of Thursday’s ruling.
“Like the Bowie Knife which was commonly carried by citizens and soldiers in the 1800s, ‘assault weapons’ are dangerous, but useful,” Benitez wrote. “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.'”
The federal judge has repeatedly struck down other California laws pertaining to firearms, including last month when he ruled that the state could not ban magazines that hold more than ten rounds of ammunition.
But the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals allowed California to continue to enforce the law while the case was pending, and state officials appealed the ruling.
Benitez issued an injunction blocking his latest ruling with a 10-day hold so the state could file an appeal.
California Democrat Attorney General Rob Bonta filed a notice of appeal to overturn the district court decision, calling the judge’s decision “dangerous and misguided.”
“Weapons of war have no place on California’s streets,” Bonta said in a news release. “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. In the meantime, assault weapons remain unlawful for purchase, transfer, or possession in California.”
The decision marks another victory for Constitutionalists after the U.S. Supreme Court’s monumental decision last year in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. vs. Bruen that deemed that longtime restrictions New York placed on carrying concealed firearms violate Americans’ Second and Fourteenth Amendment rights.
Benitez’s ruling came after the 9th Circuit of Appeals sent the case back to him in light of the Bruen decision.