Federal Judge Strikes Down California ‘Assault Weapons’ Ban, Bonta Appeals


(Kenneth Schrupp, The Center Square) – Federal judge Roger Benitez overturned California‘s ban on semi-automatic rifles, pistols or shotguns with certain cosmetic or ergonomic features that make them defined as “assault weapons.”

“Today’s radical ruling — comparing an assault rifle to a bowie knife — is a direct insult to every victim of a mass shooting and their families,” said California governor Gavin Newsom in a statement denouncing the decision. “Californians’ elected representatives decided almost 35 years ago that weapons of war have no place in our communities. Today, Judge Benitez decided that he knows better, public safety be damned.”

Most guns today are variations of semi-automatic firearms that fire single bullets of varying sizes with single pulls of the trigger. California’s “assault weapons” ban focuses on cosmetic and ergonomic features of firearms such as barrel lengths allowed for certain weapons, and bans on different types of weapon grips, threaded barrels that can accept attachments, and adjustable weapons stocks that can make a firearm more comfortable for users of diverse sizes.

Benitez found the ban on these features as unconstitutional under the Bruen test, a new legal doctrine from the Supreme Court that requires the government must “justify its regulation by demonstrating that it is consistent with the Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation,” and also “assess whether modern firearms regulations are consistent with the Second Amendment’s text and historical understanding.”

Applying the Bruen test, Benitez found the “State’s ban on modern semi- automatics has no historical pedigree,” and that “because a law criminalizing mere possession of a firearm in one’s home kept for self-defense, like California’s Assault Weapon Control Act, is so extreme, it would be very important if the State could at least point to a historical tradition of banning the simple possession of any kind of firearm.”

“The State argues that the prohibited firearms, designed and configured as they are, are somehow not suitable for self-defense.It has already been determined in the initial decision that the prohibited firearm configurations are well suited for self-defense and they are well-suited for militia use,” continued Benitez. “Even so, if a firearm is not unusual, it is protected. Government simply does not have the authority to dictate a list of firearms or configurations that it finds “suitable” for citizen self-defense, hunting, target practice, militia use, or some other lawful use.”

“Weapons of war have no place on California’s streets,” retorted Attorney General Bonta in a statement announcing his appeal of the ruling. “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.”

Benitez recently also overturned the state’s ban on standard-capacity firearm magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds, drawing similar ire from the governor and attorney general.

As with the magazine-ban ruling, Benitez gave the state 10 days to receive a stay on the ruling as the case is appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court. Benitez had previously issued a similar ruling overturning California’s “assault weapons” ban in 2021 that was quickly stayed while an appeals process could be pursued by the state. This ruling was vacated in 2022 in the aftermath of Bruen and remanded back to Benitez for this current ruling.