California Pushes Back on Judge’s Decision to Outlaw State’s Ban on Assault Weapons

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Kalashnikov assault rifles with ammunition on a wooden table

Bo Tefu | California Black Media

California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Attorney General Rob Bonta announced last week that the state has appealed a federal court’s decision that declared California’s ban on assault weapons unconstitutional.

Several state officials, including San Francisco Mayor London Breed, also shared their disagreement with the court’s ruling during a press conference held at the Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital. The state partnered with a number of gun control advocate groups for the event, including the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence and the Giffords Law Center.

“We can agree that the decision was disappointing,” said Bonta.

“In many ways, the opinion was disturbing and troubling, and a big concern but we cannot be, and we are not, deterred by this,” he said.

Federal Judge Roger Thomas Benitez presided over the decision in Miller v. Bonta. The case was heard at the United States District Court for the Southern District of California.

Bonta said his office has appealed the decision, requesting that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit leave the current laws in effect for 30 days.

California’s gun laws are some of the strictest in the nation under the Roberti–Roos Assault Weapons Control Act of 1989 (AWCA) which bans the use of specific models of firearms classified as assault weapons. In the pending court case Miller v. Bonta, James Miller, a lawyer who serves as a board member of the San Diego County Gun Owners, advocated for the use of the AR-15 rifle. However, the semiautomatic rifle with certain features is an illegal assault weapon according to California gun laws. Miller argued that AR-15 rifles can be used for self-defense under the second amendment. Miller, who also serves on the Cajon Valley School Board, initially challenged former Attorney General Xavier Becerra on California’s criminalization of AR-15 rifles in April this year. The ongoing case, which Attorney General Bonta inherited, sparked heated debates about gun laws in the wake of increasing gun violence and mass shootings.

Breed recalled her personal experience with gun violence growing up in the Bay Area.

“We’re here at San Francisco General Hospital. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been here, after a friend that I grew up with was shot,” she said.

Breed was joined by Mattie Scott who lost her son to gun violence. The mayor grew up with Scott’s son who was killed in 1996 at a graduation party in San Francisco.

“We don’t want to see another person, another child lost to gun violence in this city in this state in this country,” said Mayor Breed.

“We’ve had a law on the books in the state for over 30 years, and a judge decides that our law is no longer constitutional. That law has saved countless numbers of lives,” she said.

According to Statista Research Department, California had a total of 22 mass shootings between 1982 and 2021. In the court decision, Judge Benitez compared the effectiveness of an AR-15 rifle to a Swiss Army Knife. Based on the federal court’s ruling, the semiautomatic machine gun is, “Good for both home and battle,” said Judge Benitez.

“Like the Swiss Army Knife, the popular AR-15 rifle is a perfect combination of home defense weapon and homeland defense equipment,” the federal judge said in favor of Miller.

Bonta disagreed with the federal judge’s reasoning to justify the court’s decision.

“Equating assault weapons to Swiss Army knives, and false claims that COVID-19 vaccines have killed more people than mass shootings was shocking,”

Although the murder of Scott’s son remains unsolved, she is an avid activist for social justice related to gun violence.

“The judge who issued this decision is wrong,” said Scott.

“It is insulting to read his decision when he called the kind of weapon that killed my son, akin to a pocketknife,” she said.

“Pocket knives don’t tear families apart. They don’t shoot up schools, churches, movie theaters, and street corners,” she said in reference to the recent mass shootings across the country.

Contrary to Benitez’s belief that AR-15 rifles can be compared to pocket knives, trauma surgeon Dr. Andre Campbell said that the semiautomatic rifle is a lethal assault weapon designed for the battlefield.

“An AR-15 is a weapon of mass destruction. It is used in the battlefield to kill the enemy, it’s a gun that is used in warfare and should not be available or used in the streets of the United States,” said Campbell.

Campbell has treated many bullet wounds on the frontlines of trauma care for over two decades and has witnessed the devastation a single bullet can cause to the human body.

“It is as if a bomb went off in the tissues of patients,” said Campbell describing the impact of an AR-15 bullet in patients he’s treated over the years.

The executive director of the Giffords Law Center Robyn Thomas said that the federal judge’s decision to give civilians access to military-grade weapons sets California’s gun laws back by 32 years.

“The decision is not based on the correct interpretation of the law,” said Thomas.

“The comprehensive gun regulation which we have pioneered here in the state is protecting the lives of Californians. It is making us safer,” she said.

In its budget for 2021-22, the state has allocated $200 million for the California Violence Intervention and Prevention Grant Program. The investment was set up to prevent gun violence in high-risk communities statewide.

“Folks that wax on about public safety, and they sit back passively and say nothing about this outrageous decision. Shame on them. What frauds,” said Newsom.

The governor urged lawmakers to evaluate the absurdity of the court’s decision to justify the personal use of a rifle that is, “nothing more than a weapon of war,” he said.

The governor said that gun control has always been a bipartisan issue that helped California lawmakers enact, “progressive and aggressive,” gun safety laws that regulated the people’s right to bear arms for over three decades.

California’s ban on assault weapons remains in effect for 30 days as the attorney general appeals the court’s decision in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.


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