San Diego judge again overturns California assault weapon ban

A San Diego federal judge today overturned California’s three-decades-old ban on assault weapons for the second time in recent years.

U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez, who has frequently ruled in favor of firearm advocates seeking to overturn state laws governing guns and ammunition, issued an injunction Thursday prohibiting state officials from enforcing the ban.

In a written ruling, the judge stated that officials are seeking to prohibit individuals from acquiring guns used commonly in mass shootings and other criminal activities. But Benitez ruled such a ban infringes on the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens.

“We hear constantly about mass shootings for days and weeks and on anniversaries,” Benitez wrote. “But how often do we celebrate the saving of the life of Jane Doe because she was able to use a semi automatic weapon to defend herself and her family from attackers? Are the lives of Jane, John, and Junior Doe worth any less than others? Are they less important?”   

The judge also stated that what officials describe as assault weapons are “no more dangerous than other arms the state does not ban. The banned arms are just modern versions of rifles, shotguns, and pistols.”

Benitez gave the California Attorney General’s Office 10 days to seek a stay of the injunction, and on Thursday afternoon, the office announced it had filed a notice of appeal.

“Weapons of war have no place on California’s streets,” California Attorney General Rob Bonta said in a statement. “This has been state law in California for decades, and we will continue to fight for our authority to keep our citizens safe from firearms that cause mass casualties. In the meantime, assault weapons remain unlawful for purchase, transfer, or possession in California.”

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Cody J. Wisniewski of The Firearms Policy Coalition, one of the plaintiffs in a San Diego lawsuit that led to Benitez’s ruling, said in a statement, “Today’s opinion is yet another thorough demonstration of the unconstitutional nature of these types of bans on constitutionally protected arms. We’re elated that the court has recognized that California’s ban flies directly in the face of peaceable individuals’ constitutionally protected right to keep and bear arms, and we look forward to continuing to demonstrate that point in courtrooms in California and across the country.”

Benitez previously overturned the ban in 2021. Though the state appealed, the case was sent back down to Benitez following the Supreme Court’s ruling in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen, which altered the standard by which firearms-related cases could be analyzed.

The judge also ruled last month against California’s ban on gun magazines that hold more than 10 bullets and previously struck down a state law requiring background checks for ammunition purchases.

Benitez’s pro-gun rulings led Gov. Gavin Newsom to publicly describe the judge as “a wholly owned subsidiary of the gun lobby and the National Rifle Association.”

In a statement issued following Thursday’s ruling, Newsom said, “Judge Benitez is hellbent on making it more dangerous for our kids to go to school, for families to go to the mall or to attend a place of worship. We are working with Attorney General Rob Bonta to fight this extreme and logically incoherent ruling and keep California safer, but we should not have to go get Judge Benitez overturned every time the decides to write a love letter to the gun lobby.”

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