California's AG Files Appeal After Judge Overturns Ban on Assault Weapons


Photo: KFI/Kris Ankarlo

California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced Thursday the state has filed an appeal to a San Diego federal judge's decision that overturned a 32-year-old ban on assault weapons.

“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.

The ruling was issued last Friday (June 4) by U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez, who called the ban on assault weapons an unconstitutional infringement on the rights of California gun owners and that it has had "no effect" on curtailing mass shootings over the years.

In his 94-page ruling, Benitez wrote, “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 AR-15 is the kind of versatile gun that lies at the intersection of the kinds of firearms protected under District of Columbia v. Heller and United States v. Miller.''

Bonta criticized Benitez for comparing the AR-15 semiautomatic rifle to a Swiss Army knife in his ruling on 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. 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.''

The ruling has its origins from a lawsuit filed by local gun proponents, and it is third time in recent years that Benitez has blocked state laws related to firearms or ammunition. The judge previously ruled against California's laws that banned high-capacity magazines and required background checks for ammo purchases, finding in each instance that state gun laws have infringed upon the Second Amendment rights of Californians.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom was also present at Thursday's press conference at Zuckerman San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center, which is known as a leading facility for treating gunshot victims. Newsom issued a harsh condemnation of Benitez and his history of striking down California gun laws, calling the judge “a wholly owned subsidiary of the gun lobby and the National Rifle Association,'' while criticizing the timing of the ruling, which was issued on National Gun Violence Awareness Day.

“That says everything about his character,'' Newsom said.

The permanent injunction issued by Benetiz stops the enforcement of key provisions of the assault weapon ban, but it will not go into effect for thirty days to allow the state to appeal the judge's decision. Bonta said his filing asks for the stay to be extended until the case is decided.

The law banning assault weapons was passed following a shooting at Cleveland Elementary School in Stockton that killed five children and wounded 29 others. It banned the manufacture and sale of more than 60 models of assault rifles and was signed into law by then-Gov. George Deukmejian. Six other states and the District of Columbia have also adopted an assault weapons ban. Congress enacted a ban in 1994, however, it expired in 2004 after lawmakers failed to renew it.