For 32 years, assault rifles like AR-15s have been illegal in California. But on June 8th, federal judge Roger Benitez overturned the ban, claiming it was a “failed experiment” and falsely stating that more people in California have died from covid-19 vaccines than mass shootings. So does that mean that anyone in the state can run out and buy an assault rifle? Not yet, but the future of the law, and assault weapon bans nationwide are up in the air as a result of the ruling.
What is the Current State of the Ban?
As of right now, it’s still in effect. That’s because the judge applied a 30 day stay on the overturning of the law, to allow the state attorney general, Rob Bonta, the chance to appeal the decision to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. It’s worth mentioning that at the same time, the state’s central district court ruled to uphold the ban, so it really is up to the appeals court to decide on the matter.
The reason two courts have ruled differently on the matter is largely because the gun lobby keeps filing suits to challenge California’s gun laws, concurrently doing so in different jurisdictions with the hopes that they’ll get a sympathetic judge like they did this time.
So What About the Long-Run?
That’s why people are so interested in this ruling. The Ninth Circuit Appeals Court has historically been famously liberal overall and has upheld most of the state’s gun laws, but it has recently become more balanced thanks to the nomination of more conservative judges to the court by Donald Trump, so it’s hard to say for sure that how the court will rule on the matter.
That being said, if the court upholds California’s ban, chances are that the gun lobby that originally filed the suit will appeal the Ninth Circuit’s opinion, which means the matter will then head to the US Supreme Court. With both Brett Kavanaugh and Amy Coney Barrett demonstrating decidedly pro-gun opinions in the past, it seems very possible that the Supreme court will agree that the ban is an unconstitutional violation of the Second Amendment.
If the Supreme Court does rule against California, the ruling wouldn’t just affect the Golden State, but the entire nation. That will undermine President Biden’s attempts to push for a nationwide ban on assault weapons.
How Effective was the Assault Weapons Ban?
It’s hard to say, particularly given the number of mass shootings in California over the last decade. But proponents of the ban have argued that limits on assault weapons and high capacity magazines can at least reduce the number of victims in these tragic incidents, while opponents of gun control measures say that having more assault rifles on the streets could make it easier for people to defend their families and stop threats to the public, such as mass shooters.
The Guardian points out that limits on assault weapons likely make little to no difference when it comes to murders as the great majority of gun murders involving handguns, while rifles are used in less than 4% of murders. Large capacity firearms allow for rapid firing so a ban on them could potentially reduce fatalities or mass shootings.
And many critics of the law also argue that the effectiveness of these bans is marginal, because with a few minor modifications, an assault weapon can easily be modified to be legal within the state. In fact, many manufacturers sell what are called “California compliant” AR-15s that are completely legal within the state regardless of the ban on these weapons.
Only time will tell whether this is the beginning of the end of assault rifle bans within the entire US, but in the meanwhile, if you have been charged with possessing an illegal weapon in San Diego, please call attorney Peter M. Liss at (760) 643-4050.