A US judge has overturned California’s three-decade-old ban on assault weapons on Friday in a move swiftly condemned by the state’s governor Gavin Newson as gun-related homicides surge across America.
In a 94-page decision, federal Judge Roger T Benitez described California’s assault weapons ban — in place in 1989 — as unconstitutional and defended the right of Americans to own semiautomatic rifles.
“Like the Swiss Army knife, the popular AR-15 rifle is a perfect combination of home defense weapon and homeland defense equipment,” he wrote.
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“Guns and ammunition in the hands of criminals, tyrants and terrorists are dangerous; guns in the hands of law-abiding responsible citizens are better,” he argued.
Mr Benitez said he would give the state 30 days to appeal the decision, which Governor Newson said posed a “direct threat to public safety” and which he vowed to challenge.
“We’re not backing down from this fight, and we’ll continue pushing for common sense gun laws that will save lives,” he said in a statement.
The decision comes as gun violence surges across the United States — and just over a week after a disgruntled, heavily-armed California public transit worker shot and killed nine people.
A search this week of the shooter’s home — which was set ablaze shortly before the attack — turned up 12 guns, around 22,000 rounds of ammunition and suspected Molotov cocktails.
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Mass shootings have also taken place in Florida, Indiana, California, Colorado and Georgia, in a surge in violence that President Joe Biden has branded an “epidemic.”
The US Supreme Court is also due to hear a challenge backed by the gun lobby to a New York law that restricts the carrying of firearms outside the home.
It will be the first major case involving the Second Amendment constitutional right to bear arms heard by the nation’s highest court in more than a decade.
While the coronavirus pandemic slowed workplace violence as more people stayed home, it also saw record gun sales.
In March last year, the number of weekly federal background checks on gun buyers surpassed one million for the first time, The New York Times reported
California first placed restrictions on assault weapons back in 1989, adding a variety of updates to the law since then.
The state attorney general’s office argued that by legal definition, assault weapons are more dangerous than other firearms and are chosen when criminals commit crimes, mass shootings and attack law enforcement.
They also result in greater casualties.
Barring them has proven the state’s preservation of public safety.
The argument against also cites the sales of more than one million other types of pistols, rifles and shotguns in the last year – where more than a third of them were likely bought by first-time buyers.
This suggests that the assault weapons ban has not prevented law-abiding citizens in the state from acquiring a range of firearms for lawful purposes, including self-defense, according to the state’s position in a March court filing.
California isn’t the only state to ban assault weapons.
There have been six other federal district and appeals courts where the opposition to them was upheld.
But Judge Benitez didn’t agree.
“This case is not about extraordinary weapons lying at the outer limits of Second Amendment protection,” Mr Benitez wrote in his ruling, according to the Associated Press.
“The banned assault weapons are not bazookas, howitzers, or machine guns. Those arms are dangerous and solely useful for military purposes.”
While California’s ban has been enforced, the state still boasts an estimated 185,569 registered assault weapons, the judge noted.
“This is an average case about average guns used in average ways for average purposes,” the ruling states.
“One is to be forgiven if one is persuaded by news media and others that the nation is awash with murderous AR-15 assault rifles. The facts, however, do not support this hyperbole, and facts matter.”
Parts of this story first appeared on The Sun and have been republished with permission.