Jun 5, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Federal judge strikes down California's ban on assault weapons

Picture of AR rifles in a store
Photo: George Frey/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A federal judge on Friday overturned California's more than 30-year-old ban on assault weapons, ruling it unconstitutional.

The state of play: U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez said that AR-15 rifles are like Swiss Army knives, calling them a "perfect combination of home defense weapon and homeland defense equipment." California's definition of illegal, military-style firearms unlawfully robs law-abiding residents of weapons widely available in most other states and by the U.S. Supreme Court, the judge wrote.

Flashback: California prohibited the sale of assault weapons in 1989, with the state legislature concluding that an assault weapon "has such a high rate of fire and capacity for firepower that its function as a legitimate sports or recreational firearm is substantially outweighed by the danger that it can be used to kill and injure human beings."

What he's saying: "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 machineguns. Those arms are dangerous and solely useful for military purposes," Benitez wrote.

"Instead, the firearms deemed 'assault weapons' are fairly ordinary, popular, modern rifles. This is an average case about average guns used in average ways for average purposes."

The other side: California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) said the "[court's] decision is a direct threat to public safety and the lives of innocent Californians, period."

  • "[T]he fact that this judge compared the AR-15 – a weapon of war that’s used on the battlefield – to a Swiss Army Knife completely undermines the credibility of this decision and is a slap in the face to the families who’ve lost loved ones to this weapon," he added.

What to watch: Benitez said he granted a 30-day stay of the ruling at Bonta's request "during which time the Attorney General may appeal."

  • Bonta called the ruling "fundamentally flawed" and vowed to appeal it.
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