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Federal judge strikes down decades-old California ban on assault weapons

Damian Dovarganes/AP 20 Oct 23

Originally Published: 20 OCT 23 00:57 ET By Taylor Romine, CNN

(CNN) — A federal judge has overturned a decades-old California law banning assault weapons, calling the restriction “extreme” and unconstitutional.

US District Judge Roger T. Benitez ruled Thursday the ban impedes on residents’ Second Amendment rights and has no historical precedent, as is required by a landmark Supreme Court decision last year that changed the test courts are to use when determining the constitutionality of firearms regulations.

Benitez relied on a similar argument when he struck down California’s ban on high-capacity magazines last month.

The state argued the law aims to prevent mass shooters from gaining access to assault weapons. But Benitez countered many of the banned firearms are also commonly used by “law-abiding” citizens for self-defense.

“California’s answer to the criminal misuse of a few is to disarm its many good residents. That knee-jerk reaction is constitutionally untenable, just as it was 250 years ago,” Benitez wrote in his decision.

The law struck down by Benitez includes a broad definition of assault weapons, which includes a variety of semi-automatic rifles, pistols and shotguns.

Gov. Gavin Newsom dismissed the decision as a “direct insult to every victim of a mass shooting and their families.”

“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,” Newsom said in a statement.

The judge stayed his injunction for 10 days in order to give the state an opportunity to appeal.

California Attorney General Rob Bonta immediately filed a notice of appeal, noting the ban is still in effect for the time being. He criticized the court’s decision as “dangerous and misguided.”

“Weapons of war have no place on California’s streets,” Bonta said in a statement. “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.”

John Dillon, an attorney representing some of the plaintiffs, said in a statement the decision is “constitutionally sound and addresses the many inadequacies of the State’s arguments and so-called justifications for this unconstitutional ban.”

The overturned statute is among the slew of firearms restrictions opened up to scrutiny by a Supreme Court decision last June which established a new standard for courts to analyze such laws.

Under the decision, firearm regulations must be “consistent with this Nation’s historical tradition” to comply with Second Amendment protections, meaning modern gun laws must be consistent with how firearms were regulated historically.

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