California Appeals Judge’s Decision To Overturn 32-Year-Old Assault Weapons Ban

Gun Rights

SACRAMENTO (CBSLA/AP) – California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced Thursday that the state will appeal a recent ruling by a federal judge which overturned the state’s decades-long assault weapons ban.

A California-legal featureless AR-15 style rifle is displayed for sale at a booth at the Crossroads of the West Gun Show at the Orange County Fairgrounds on June 5, 2021 in Costa Mesa, Calif. (Getty Images)

Bonta, along with Gov. Gavin Newsom, made the announcement in a news briefing in Sacramento Thursday morning.

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On June 4, U.S. District Judge Robert Benitez of San Diego overturned the ban, stating that it violated the right to bear arms. The ban was enacted by the California Legislature back in 1989, with multiple updates since then.

Benitez ruled that the state’s definition of illegal military-style rifles unlawfully deprives law-abiding Californians of weapons commonly allowed in most other states and by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Julie Paez, a mass shooting survivor at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino where 14 people died on December 3, 2015, does not want to see more people owning assault weapons like the one used in the massacre.

“It has had profound effects on my children especially,” she said Thursday.

Following the announcement, the Firearms Policy Coalition, which filed the lawsuit that was the basis of Benitez’s ruling, pledged in a statement to “aggressively litigate this case on appeal and will take every action to defend the court’s legally and historically correct decision up to and at the U.S. Supreme Court.”

In his 94-page ruling, the judge spoke favorably of modern weapons and said they were overwhelmingly used for legal reasons.

“Like the Swiss Army knife, the popular AR-15 rifle is a perfect combination of home defense weapon and homeland defense equipment. Good for both home and battle,” the judge said in his ruling’s introduction.

In his news conference, Bonta called the judge’s decision “disturbing and troubling.”

“I think we can agree that the decision was disappointing, and the reasoning, such as equating assault weapons to Swiss Army knives, and false claims that COVID-19 vaccines have killed more people than mass shootings, was shocking,” Bonta said. “In many ways the opinion was disturbing and troubling and of great concern.”

“I’m the son of a judge, I’m very cautious about attacking judicial decisions,” Newsom added Thursday. “But I sat back and watched decision, after decision, after decision with Judge Benitez. He’s unserious. Judge Benitez…is a stone cold ideologue. He’s a wholly-owned subsidiary of the gun lobby and the National Rifle Association.”

Bonta is appealing the decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

A surge in sales of more than 1.16 million other types of pistols, rifles and shotguns in the last year — more than a third of them to likely first-time buyers — show that the assault weapons ban “has not prevented law-abiding citizens in the state from acquiring a range of firearms for lawful purposes, including self-defense,” the state contended in a court filing in March.

Similar assault weapon restrictions have previously been upheld by six other federal district and appeals courts, the state argued. Overturning the ban would allow not only assault rifles, but things like assault shotguns and assault pistols, state officials said.

But Benitez disagreed.

“This case is not about extraordinary weapons lying at the outer limits of Second Amendment protection. The banned ‘assault weapons’ are not bazookas, howitzers, or machine guns. Those arms are dangerous and solely useful for military purposes,” his ruling said. “Instead, the firearms deemed ‘assault weapons’ are fairly ordinary, popular, modern.”

The judge said despite California’s ban, there currently are an estimated 185,569 assault weapons registered with the state. They were grandfathered in before California’s evolving definition of an assault weapon.

(© Copyright 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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