EDITOR’S NOTE: This article has been updated to include comments from the Firearms Policy Coalition.
REGION — State leaders announced today that an appeal has been filed in response to a San Diego federal judge’s ruling that overturned California’s three-decade-old ban on assault weapons.
In addition to appealing U.S. District Judge Roger T. Benitez’s order that found the ban unconstitutional, California will ask the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to extend the current 30-day stay of the ban, which Benitez issued along with his ruling last Friday. The stay sought by state leaders would leave the ban in place throughout the appeals process.
Following the announcement, the Firearms Policy Coalition (FPC), which filed the lawsuit that was the basis of Benitez’s ruling, pledged in a statement to “aggressively litigate this case on appeal and will take every action to defend the court’s legally and historically correct decision up to and at the U.S. Supreme Court.”
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.”
California Attorney General Rob Bonta decried that comparison, saying, “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, which stemmed from a lawsuit filed by local gun proponents, marked the 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.
In the assault weapon ruling, Benitez wrote “the state’s definition of illegal military-style rifles unlawfully deprives law-abiding Californians of weapons commonly allowed in most other states.”
In a news conference announcing the appeal, Gov. Gavin Newsom issued harsh condemnations 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.
In its statement, the FPC took issue with Newsom’s “outrageous and callous personal attacks” on Benitez, which the group said “shows (Newsom’s) deep and continuing disrespect for the rule of law, the judiciary, the Constitution, and the human rights of California citizens.”