California Is Appealing a Judge’s Reversal of the State’s Assault Weapons Ban

A legal battle is unfolding that could have implications far beyond California

California Attorney General Rob Bonta filed an appeal Thursday to U.S. District Court Judge Roger Benitez’s ruling last week that declared the state’s 32-year-old assault weapons ban unconstitutional.

Before filing to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, Bonta took particular exception to the wording Benitez used in his 94-page decision last Friday, in which the judge compared the AR-15 semiautomatic rifle—the weapon used in at least ten of the nation’s worst mass killings—to the Swiss Army Knife, deeming it “good for both home and battle.”

“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,” Bonta said.

Governor Gavin Newsom also condemned Benitez’s analogy, saying it “completely undermines the credibility of this decision and is a slap in the face to the families who’ve lost loved ones to this weapon.”

Benitez dismissed the very basis of the decades-old prohibition, stating, “The assault weapon ban has had no effect,” and calling it “a failed experiment.”

Brandon Wolf, a survivor of the 2016 Pulse nightclub murders in Orlando, in which a gunman killed 49 people with a rifle that the ATF classifies as an AR-15, tweeted, “I can assure you—if a Swiss Army knife was used at Pulse, we would have had a birthday party for my best friend last week. Not a vigil.”

Benitez, 70, has been a divisive figure since George W. Bush appointed him to the federal bench.

At a 2004 Congressional hearing on Benitez’s nomination to the federal court of California, attorney Richard A. Macias told legislators about the strong reservations many in the California legal community had toward the judge.

“Interviewees repeatedly told me that Judge Benitez displays inappropriate judicial temperament with lawyers, litigants, and judicial colleagues,” he said, “that all too frequently, while on the bench, Judge Benitez is arrogant, pompous, condescending, impatient, short-tempered, rude, insulting, bullying, unnecessarily mean, and altogether lacking in people skills.”

Because Benitez granted a 30-day stay on his ruling to allow the state time to launch its appeal, the ban is still in effect for the time being, but the battle over assault weapons could have ramifications well outside California. Gun control advocates are concerned that the gun lobby is angling to have the case sent up to a conservative-majority Supreme Court, which could result in similar bans being overturned across the country.

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