A federal appeals court this week put on hold a judge’s ruling overturning California’s 32-year-old ban on so-called “assault weapons.”
On Monday, a three-judge panel in the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a stay (pdf) of U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez’s June 4 order. It followed appeals from state officials on the decision, saying that the law is needed to prevent gun deaths.
Benitez, a George W. Bush appointee, had ruled earlier this month that the state’s decades-old ban on “assault weapons” violates the Second Amendment.
The state government, through the law, “bans an entire class of very popular hardware—firearms that are lawful under federal law and under the laws of most states and that are commonly held by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes,” Benitez wrote in his 94-page ruling in Miller et al. v. Bonta et al.
“Under no level of heightened scrutiny can the law survive.”
California laws prohibit the manufacture, use, or sale of an “assault weapon,” defined as a semiautomatic rifle with certain characteristics such as a fixed magazine that has the capacity to hold more than 10 rounds. People who violate the laws can be charged with a felony or a misdemeanor and face prison sentences of up to eight years.
California Attorney General Rob Bonta, who appealed Benitez’s decision, said on Twitter that California’s laws on “assault weapons” would remain in effect while appellate proceedings continue.
“We won’t stop defending these life-saving laws,” Bonta, a Democrat, said in a Twitter post.
He had described Benitez’s June 4 ruling as “disturbing and troubling and of great concern.”
“This case is not about extraordinary weapons lying at the outer limits of Second Amendment protection. The banned ‘assault weapons’ are not bazookas, howitzers, or machineguns. Those arms are dangerous and solely useful for military purposes,” Benitez wrote in his 94-page ruling earlier this month.
“Instead, the firearms deemed ‘assault weapons’ are fairly ordinary, popular, modern rifles. This is an average case about average guns used in average ways for average purposes,” he said.
California became the first state to ban “assault weapons” in 1989 in the wake of a school shooting that killed five children. Six other states and the District of Columbia also enforce similar bans, according to the gun safety group Giffords.
The 9th Circuit judges on the panel issuing the stay were Barry Silverman, an appointee of former president Bill Clinton; Jacqueline Nguyen, a Barack Obama appointee; and Ryan Nelson, an appointee of Donald Trump.
Zachary Stieber and Reuters contributed to this report.