By Bethany Blankley | The Center Square
A federal judge has ruled that a 1989-era California ban on so-called “assault weapons” violates the Second Amendment.
“Under no level of heightened scrutiny can the law survive,” U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez, a George W. Bush nominee, wrote in his 94-page ruling.
In Miller et al. v Bonta et al., he wrote that the California law “bans an entire class of very popular hardware – firearms that are lawful under federal law and under the laws of most states and that are commonly held by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes.”
California law categorizes three types of assault weapons, specifying which are legally owned and registered up until a certain date, and which are prohibited from being manufactured, used or sold in the state. Penalties for violating the laws range from misdemeanors to felony charges, carrying prison sentences of up to eight years.
Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, said after the ruling, “Overturning California’s assault weapon ban and comparing an AR-15 to a SWISS ARMY KNIFE is a disgusting slap in the face to those who have lost loved ones to gun violence. This is a direct threat to public safety and innocent Californians. We won’t stand for it.”
The state is appealing the ruling, California Attorney General Rob Bonta said, adding that, “There is no sound basis in law, fact, or common sense for equating assault rifles with swiss army knives.”
California resident James Miller, who has a concealed carry permit, sued the state in 2019. His complaint states that he seeks to use “his lawfully acquired large-capacity magazine(s) in his California-compliant, ‘fixed magazine rifle.’” However, he “is prevented from lawfully doing so without risk of persecution resulting in injury to his life and liberty; and the unlawful confiscation and loss of his personal property because said use would reclassify his rifle as a prohibited ‘assault weapon.’”
“This is an average case about average guns used in average ways for average purposes,” the judge ruled. “One is to be forgiven if one is persuaded by news media and others that the nation is awash with murderous AR-15 assault rifles. The facts, however, do not support this hyperbole, and facts matter.
“In California, murder by knife occurs seven times more often than murder by rifle.
According to California data, 185,569 assault weapons are registered in the state despite the ban.
Benitez argues that the U.S. Supreme Court recognizes “that the Second Amendment guarantee includes a right to keep and bear firearms that have ‘some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well-regulated militia,’” quoting from Miller’s filing.
He also referenced District of Columbia v. Heller, in which the court broadly found that the Constitution protects the rights to own guns.
“The Heller test asks: is a modern rifle commonly owned by law-abiding citizens for a lawful purpose? For the AR-15 type rifle the answer is ‘yes.’ The overwhelming majority of citizens who own and keep the popular AR-15 rifle and its many variants do so for lawful purposes, including self-defense at home. Under Heller, that is all that is needed,” Benitez wrote.
Benitez has drawn ire from some Sacramento officials who already appealed two of his previous gun-related rulings. In 2017, Benitez ruled against the state’s ban on sales of magazines holding more than 10 bullets, and in 2020 he blocked a measure requiring background checks for those buying ammunition.
Six other states have enacted assault rifle bans. A 1994 federal ban expired in 2004, which President Joe Biden has pledged to reinstate.