Gun Control Advocates Decry ‘Extremist’ Judge Set To Rule on California Assault Weapons Ban

Judge Benitez has been a bane to California’s gun control movement for years, striking down many restrictions during his two decades on the federal bench.

AP/Andrew Selsky
Firearms on display at a gun shop at Salem, Oregon. AP/Andrew Selsky

A federal judge in California is set to rule on the constitutionality of California’s expansive weapons ban, the latest ruling from lower courts as they attempt to interpret a landmark Supreme Court decision from last year.

Judge Roger Benitez of the Southern District of California partially struck down the law last year, but the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals halted his ruling and has allowed the ban to remain in place while the legal challenges to it play out in court. 

A lawyer for the Second Amendment rights group that is now suing the state, Kostos Moros, told the Sun that the ruling could be handed down as soon as Friday. “I can only speculate. The briefing is now done, so we think it will be done soon. It could be tomorrow, it could be next week,” Mr. Moros said. 

The weapons currently banned in California include long-barrel rifles like the popular Colt AR-15 and AK-series rifles, as well as long guns with pistol grips, flash suppressors, or folding stocks. Under the law, anyone who “manufactures, distributes, transports, or imports into the state, keeps for sale, or offers or exposes for sale, or who gives or lends any assault weapon” could face up to eight years in prison.

Asked about the significance of Judge Benitez’s likely decision to strike down the law, Mr. Moros said it has historic implications. “The practical effect will be limited, because of course the state will appeal and we expect a stay from the Ninth Circuit pending appeal,” he said. “But the symbolic effect will be important because it is the first post-Bruen decision striking down these bans on commonly owned firearms,” Mr. Moros said, referring to a landmark Supreme Court decision from last year. 

The case, New York State Pistol and Rifle Association v. Bruen, struck down a number of state regulations related to firearms ownership and where weapons can be carried. Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the majority opinion, saying that when defending such gun control measures, “the government must affirmatively prove that its firearms regulation is part of the historical tradition … of the right to keep and bear arms.” 

Governor Newsom also expects Judge Benitez’s decision to strike down the law. “We are probably only weeks away from another activist judge, Judge Roger Benitez, striking down California’s bans on assault weapons and large capacity magazines,” Mr. Newsom said at a news conference in early February. “California will continue to fight against these extremist judges to protect our residents’ right to be free from gun violence.”

Following the judge’s initial ruling that struck down the law last year, a gun control group, Giffords Law Center, called Judge Benitez an “extremist.”

“Too many families across the nation have lost loved ones in shootings carried out with assault weapons. They can attest to the reality that these weapons are not like ‘swiss army knives’ nor are mass shootings only a ‘very small’ problem,” the group’s executive director, Robyn Thomas, wrote. In last year’s decision, Judge Benitez compared the usefulness of an AR-15 to that of a Swiss army knife. 

Judge Benitez has been a bane to California’s gun control movement for years, striking down many restrictions during his two decades on the federal bench. In a 2019 decision striking down the state’s ban on high-capacity magazines, he wrote about three women in California who ran out of ammunition while fighting off home intruders.

The New York Sun

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