Federal Judge Strikes Down California’s 32-Year “Assault Weapons” Ban

Federal Judge Strikes Down California’s 32-Year “Assault Weapons” Ban

California is making national news this week following a federal judge’s reversal of the state’s decades old “assault weapons” ban (AWB), calling it a “failed experiment” that violates citizens’ Constitutional rights. On June 4, U.S. District Court Judge Roger T. Benitez struck down the 32-year-old law in the case of James Miller v. Rob Bonta, California Attorney General, writing that all sections of California’s penal code that define assault weapons and restrict their use are “hereby declared unconstitutional and shall be enjoined.”

In his opening statement, Benitez said: “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, 554 U.S. 570 (2008) and United States v. Miller, 307 U.S. 174 (1939). Yet, the State of California makes it a crime to have an AR-15-type rifle. Therefore, this Court declares the California statutes to be unconstitutional.”

Benitez’ 94-page ruling was in step with two previous rulings he made on challenges to California firearm regulations since March 2019. The three rulings have refuted large portions of California’s far-reaching gun laws. Benitez also called out the ongoing intentional misuse of the term “assault weapon,” which as American hunters, shooters and gun owners know is an arbitrary label. According to the NRA Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA), by U.S. Army definition, an assault weapon is a selective-fire rifle chambered for a cartridge of intermediate power. If the term, or legislation such as California’s AWB, is applied to any semi-automatic firearm—regardless of its cosmetic similarity to an assault rifle, defined as a rapid-fire, magazine-fed automatic rifle—then it is incorrect.

Formally known as the Roberti-Roos Assault Weapons Control Act of 1989, California’s AWB made it illegal to own or transfer more than 50 makes and models of semi-automatic rifles, pistols and shotguns, classifying them as “assault weapons.” The state’s law-abiding gun owners who already owned firearms and magazines on the list were grandfathered, or exempted, if they were registered with the California Department of Justice. The law was overturned in June 2021 in Miller v. Bonta, but was stayed pending appeal.

The key to understanding why bans on commonly-owned semi-automatic firearms like America’s most popular rifle—the AR-15—do not and cannot reduce violent crime is acknowledging the fact that these firearms are rarely used in violent crime. But they are used by millions of law-abiding Americans for hunting, target shooting, competitive shooting and home defense to stop crime.

When it comes to exercising Second Amendment rights, according to NRA-ILA, firearm sales surged in May, with FBI National Instant Criminal Background Check System data documenting nearly 1.3 million background checks were conducted. It said the FBI conducted 3.2 million firearm-related background checks of all types, including checks for NICS Exempt firearm permits that allow holders to purchase firearms without an additional background check for the next five years. The number of background checks makes May 2021 the second-highest May on record, second only to May 2020 amid the spread of COVID-19. Even the news media is forced to report that many purchases continue to be made by first-time gun buyers and that purchasers do not conform to any stereotypes about the “typical American gun owner.”

As expected, California Gov. Gavin Newsom spoke out against Benitez’s decision, calling it “a direct threat to public safety and innocent Californians.” But since when has a law-abiding citizen with a firearm been a threat to public safety? Criminals, by definition, are the ones who do not follow laws, yet the California AWB only prevented law-abiding citizens from exercising their right to keep and bear arms.

Summing things up, Benitez wrote, “State level assault weapon bans that remain in effect have little to show. No case has held that intermediate scrutiny permits a state to impinge on the Second Amendment right by continuing to employ a known failed experiment.”

Standing up to tyranny, California gun owners and Second Amendment advocates are prepared for the legal battle as Benitez granted a 30-day stay of the ruling at the request of Attorney General Bonta to allow Bonta to appeal it. With California the epicenter of never-ending anti-gun and animal rights extremist campaigns, this is why the NRA maintains an office near the state capitol in Sacramento, Calif. As America’s oldest civil rights organization dating to 1871, together with its more than five million members, it remains the nation’s strongest defender of freedom, history’s patriots and the Second Amendment for all law-abiding, mainstream Americans.

About the Author
NRA Life member, hunting TV host and recreational real estate associate broker Phil Phillips of Hayden Outdoors has hunted five continents, taking nearly 60 species worldwide. Prior to hosting hunting programs, he started Colorado's first Ranching for Wildlife Program for antelope. Working alongside professional land managers, he went on to guide clients to 500-plus big-game animals and was named Safari Club International’s North American Bowhunting Outfitter of the Year. Phillips writes regularly about hunting issues and can be reached at [email protected].