Federal Judge Roger Benitez Lifts Assault Weapons Ban in California

In a ruling released late last week, United States District Judge Roger Benitez of the Southern District of California found that a 1989 California law banning the sale of assault weapons in the state violated the Second Amendment rights of gun owners. Judge Benitez’s ruling further authorized an injunction, preventing the Golden State from enforcing the assault weapons ban. In explaining his ruling, Benitez took special note of the popular AR-15, comparing it to a Swiss Army Knife. Benitez argued that like the Swiss Army Knife, the AR-15 is versatile, being commonly used for both home defense and law enforcement in various states throughout the United States.

Benitez’s ruling is the latest example of his jurisprudence favoring the rights of gun owners. Last year, Benitez ruled in favor of gun owners again when he found California’s law banning high-capacity magazines to be unconstitutional. In his opinion, Benitez also made sharp criticism of the news media, arguing that many outlets portray murders by AR-15s as commonplace. As noted in statistics provided by the FBI, the majority of murders attributed to firearms were committed using handguns. Nevertheless, critics of AR-15 style rifles point out that most major mass shootings, including the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre and the 2017 Las Vegas music festival shooting, were committed using assault weapons.

Criticism of Benitez’s ruling came swiftly from many California officials. The state’s attorney general, Rob Bonta, pledged to appeal Benitez’s decision. In a statement, Bonta argued that Benitez’s ruling has no basis in law and defies efforts at common sense gun laws. Governor Gavin Newsom also added that Benitez’s comparison of the AR-15 to a Swiss Army Knife itself undermines the credibility of his ruling. Newsom renewed his pledge to act in the interests of ensuring the safety of all Californians by pushing for common sense gun laws. Newsom also equated Benitez’s ruling as an insult to people who have lost loved ones to gun violence.

The sharpest criticism of Benitez’s ruling came from Fred Guttenberg, a proponent of gun safety laws whose daughter was murdered at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre in 2018. Guttenberg decried Benitez’s comparison of an AR-15 to a Swiss Army Knife, saying that there is no comparison between the two. Guttenberg also questioned Benitez’s sincerity and referred to him as an activist judge. Looking at Benitez’s words and phrasing, Guttenberg said that it was clear that the judge used language put forth by the gun lobby to write his opinion. Benitez has refused to comment on his decision in the wake of such criticism, saying that he is barred from discussing cases with the media.

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