California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta on Thursday appealed a court decision that overturned the state’s three-decade-old ban on assault weapons.
How we got here: California introduced a ban on assault weapons in 1989, a law that was challenged in 2019 as part of a lawsuit by James Miller, a California resident, and the political committee San Diego County Gun Owners against California’s attorney general.
The ruling: Judge Roger T. Benitez of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California ruled that sections of California’s penal code that defined assault weapons and prohibited their use were “hereby declared unconstitutional and shall be enjoined.”
He wrote that the case is about “what should be a muscular constitutional right and whether a state can force a gun policy choice that impinges on that right with a 30-year-old failed experiment.”
“It should be an easy question and answer … Government is not free to impose its own new policy choices on American citizens where constitutional rights are concerned,” Benitez wrote.
Benitez claimed that the firearms banned under the law were “fairly ordinary, popular, modern rifles” and not “bazookas, howitzers or machine guns.” He also compared the AR-15 to a Swiss Army knife, describing it as “a perfect combination of home defense weapon and homeland defense equipment.”
“Under no level of heightened scrutiny can the law survive,” he said.
The judge did grant a 30-day stay of the ruling at Bonta’s request, which allowed him to appeal the decision.
The appeal: Bonta filed the three-page appeal with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco on Thursday, arguing that the law was necessary “to protect the safety of Californians,” The Los Angeles Times reports. He also requested that the stay remains in effect during the appeals process.
Bonta announced the appeal alongside California Gov Gavin Newsom, at Zuckerman San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center.
“The ban on assault weapons will not put an end to all gun violence, but it is one important tool the state has to protect the safety of Californians while also respecting the rights of law-abiding residents who choose to possess firearms,” Bonta said Thursday. “Equating firearms that have been used in many of the deadliest mass shootings in this country with Swiss Army knives has no basis in law or fact.”
“California’s assault weapons ban has saved lives, and we refuse to let these weapons of war back onto our streets. This is a fight California will never back down from, period,” the governor said.
“This ban was enacted after a shooting that took the lives of five schoolchildren and injured countless more, and my administration will do whatever it takes to continue protecting Californians and leading the nation in gun safety laws,” Newsom added.
Newsom’s remarks about the judge: The California governor called Benitez “a stone-cold ideologue” and “a wholly-owned subsidiary of the gun lobby of the National Rifle Association.”
“We need to call this federal judge out. He will continue to do damage, mark my word. This is a very focused agenda to work through this judge, where the decision’s already made before it’s even presented, who writes ‘press releases’ on behalf of the gun lobby,” Newsom said.
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