June 15, 2021
The federal judge who recently ruled that California’s ban on so-called “assault weapons” is unconstitutional did so without mincing words in the written decision.
On June 4, U.S. District Court Judge Roger T. Benitez of the United State District Court for the Southern District of California ruled in the case Miller v. Bonta that California’s ban on many popular semi-auto rifles, called “assault weapons” by the state’s anti-gun politicians, to be unconstitutional and must be vacated. But it was the statements he made in the decision that opened a few eyes on both sides of the gun control debate.
“Like the Swiss Army Knife, the popular AR-15 rifle is a perfect combination of home defense weapon and homeland defense equipment,” Benitez wrote in his decision. “Good for both home and battle, the AR-15 is the kind of versatile gun that lies at the intersection of the kinds of firearms protected under District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008) and United States v Miller, 307 U.S. 174 (1939). Yet, the State of California makes it a crime to have an AR- 15 type rifle. Therefore, this Court declares the California statutes to be unconstitutional.”
Benitez’s comparison of semi-auto rifles to Swiss Army knives was apparently too much for anti-gun California Gov. Gavin Newsom to take.
“As the son of a judge, I grew up with deep respect for the judicial process and the importance of a judge’s ability to make impartial fact-based rulings, but the fact that this judge compared the AR-15—a weapon of war that’s used on the battlefield—to a Swiss Army Knife 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. We’re not backing down from this fight, and we’ll continue pushing for common-sense gun laws that will save lives.”
If the Swiss Army Knife reference part of the decision infuriated gun-ban advocates, another section of the written opinion was equally vexing to them.
“This case is not about extraordinary weapons lying at the outer limits of Second Amendment protection,” Benitez continued. “The banned ‘assault weapons’ are not bazookas, howitzers or machine guns… This is an average case about average guns used in average ways for average purposes.”
Benitez continued further, not only incriminating the liberal anti-gun media for spreading the “assault weapon” lie but citing some facts that are nearly always ignored by gun-ban advocates.
“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,” he wrote. “The facts, however, do not support this hyperbole, and facts matter. Federal Bureau of Investigation murder statistics do not track assault rifles, but they do show that killing by knife attack is far more common than murder by any kind of rifle. In California, murder by knife occurs seven times more often than murder by rifle.
“For example, according to FBI statistics for 2019, California saw 252 people murdered with a knife, while 34 people were killed with some type of rifle—not necessarily an AR-15.2 A Californian is three times more likely to be murdered by an attacker’s bare hands, fists or feet than by his rifle.3 In 2018, the statistics were even more lopsided, as California saw only 24 murders by some type of rifle. The same pattern can be observed across the nation.”
In the end, that was too much for anti-gun California Attorney General Rob Bonta, who refused to take any loss lying down.
“Today’s decision is fundamentally flawed, and we will be appealing it,” Bonta said in a prepared statement following the ruling. “We will fight this ruling and continue to advocate for and defend common-sense gun laws that will save lives.”
Many Firearms News readers will remember Benitez as the judge who ruled California’s restrictive magazine capacity limit to be unconstitutional back in 2017. That ruling was upheld in August of last year, but was stayed after a few weeks while the state prepares its case to appeal that one, also.
Born in Havana, Cuba, in 1950, Benitez was nominated to the federal bench by George W. Bush in 2003. He seems to take the Constitution—especially the Second Amendment—more seriously than many of his counterparts, especially many on the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. That’s probably because his early exposure to communism likely instilled in him more of a fondness for freedom than some who have spent their whole lives in ivory towers.
We’ll continue covering the California AWB case as it continues to weave its way through the court system.
Freelance writer and editor Mark Chesnut is the owner/editorial director at Red Setter Communications LLC. An avid hunter, shooter and political observer, he has been covering Second Amendment issues and politics on a near-daily basis for the past 20 years.