California has had a ban on so-called “assault rifles” such as the AR-15 for more than thirty years. The law has been challenged multiple times but has always seemed to hold up in the end. That changed last night when U.S. District Court Judge Roger Benitez ruled that the law was unconstitutional. He issued a permanent injunction against enforcement of the law. The judge’s choice of words in his ruling clearly triggered both Governor Gavin Newsom and State Attorney General Rob Bonta, both of whom vowed to appeal the ruling. (CNN)
In a ruling that compared the AR-15 to a Swiss Army knife, a federal judge overturned California’s longtime ban on assault weapons on Friday, ruling it violates the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms.
Assault weapons have been banned in California since 1989, according to the ruling. The law has been updated several times since it was originally passed.
According to the ruling by U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez of San Diego, the assault weapons ban deprives Californians from owning assault-style weapons commonly allowed in other states. Benitez issued a permanent injunction Friday so the law cannot be enforced.
What really seemed to stick in Newsom’s craw was the judge’s description of the AR-15. “Like the Swiss Army Knife, the popular AR-15 rifle is a perfect combination of home defense weapon and homeland defense equipment.”
While I don’t disagree with the judge’s assessment, the Swiss Army Knife comparison does seem to be a bit of a provocation to gun control enthusiasts. If that was intended as some sort of “own the libs” moment, perhaps putting that language in the official ruling wasn’t the best idea if it can be used against the ruling during the appeals process. Also, I found his use of the phrase “homeland defense equipment” to be on the dubious side. One of the chief arguments that gun-grabbers use against the AR-15 is that it’s a “weapon of war.” Invoking homeland defense just seems like he’s making their argument for them.
Judge Benitez was a George W. Bush appointee and this isn’t the first “controversial ruling” he’s delivered on the Second Amendment. Last year he ruled against the state’s ban on high-capacity magazines.
The ruling really did stray away from the specifics of the case in a couple of places. Benitez also took a couple of shots at the mainstream media. He said that people “could be forgiven” if they believed that the country was “awash with murderous AR-15 assault rifles,” going on to call such media claims “hyperbole.”
Once you make it past the seemingly provocative language, however, Benitez does make a compelling point. The differences between state laws around the country regarding “scary-looking rifles” has created a patchwork system where the rights of some gun owners are unequally quashed compared to others. While I generally find local control of controversial issues to be far superior to federal control, we’re talking about a fairly basic question of constitutional rights here. How can something be constitutional in Big River, California, and then suddenly become unconstitutional when you drive over the bridge into Parker, Arizona?
Both the ruling and the injunction are automatically stayed for 30 days. During that time, the Attorney General can file an appeal. It’s going to take a while to find out if this one makes it all the way to the Supreme Court, but I won’t be holding my breath. The court’s reluctance to take up a major Second Amendment case if there’s any way to avoid it has been evident for a while now. Still, the more challenges that are filed to gun bans around the country, the greater the pressure will be on the Supremes to eventually weigh in.