BY HEAVY NEWS STAFF
Conservative voters, Second Amendment activists and gun aficionados celebrated the overturn of California’s decades-long assault weapons ban, thanks to a decision by federal Judge Roger Benitez. Now that California Attorney General Rob Bonta filed an appeal, the resulting legal battles may provide even further cause for courtroom warfare – a Supreme Court case.
With the provisions of California Penal Code 30515(a)(i), declared unconstitutional, “assault weapons” would not be considered a public nuisance, would not have restricted use, would not be restricted from being imported by new residents and more. Now, with Attorney General Bonta’s appeal, the enforcement and implementation of Judge Benitez’s decision means the ban remains in limbo until the next legal appeal awaits its inception at the U.S. Court of Appeals.
California is no stranger to legal gun battles. Earlier this year, 22 states combined efforts and publicly plead with federal appeals courts to overturn California’s “10 or more bullet magazine” ban. Despite the state being described as having some of the strictest firearms laws in the nation, Judge Benitez noted in his decision that 185,569 “assault weapons” are registered in the state, evidence of California’s “failed experiment”. His decision further highlights the massive popularity of firearms in California, citing the purchase of over 1 million firearms in the year 2020 alone.
As of this year, only seven states, California included, and Washington D.C. continue to maintain their own assault weapons bans.
Critics of Judge Benitez’s decision may agree with at least one of his points. He noted that the merits of this case remain an issue of public interest. These are merits that will be debated at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, an opportunity granted through the Attorney General’s appeal. The Attorney General himself and Governor Gavin Newsom already set the stage for their debates, stating that the decision is “disturbing” and a “direct threat to public safety.” Meanwhile, gun rights activists and conservative lawmakers see this appeal as the steppingstones to a Supreme Court victory. Should the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals overturn Judge Benitez’s decision, the highest court in the land will become the last and largest stage for this debate.
Gun rights proponents in hope of a national victory remain encouraged by the current composition of the court, especially considering significant ideological turnover the court experienced within the last four years. In the last decade, the Supreme Court has shied away from Second Amendment cases. In 2016, the Supreme Court did not lend their support to review the assault weapons bans in New York and Connecticut, bans that are still upheld today. At the time, the composition of the court consisted of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Justice Anthony Kennedy and Justice Antonin Scalia. The deaths of Justices Scalia and Ginsburg, and the retirement of Justice Kennedy paved the way for the introduction of the most conservative composition of the court in recent times. Justice Brett Kavanaugh, Justice Neil Gorsuch, and Justice Amy Coney Barrett, all new appointees of former President Donald Trump, established a more secure conservative court majority. This allows for reviews of future Second Amendment cases and opens the docket to a wider variety of cases that would have been rejected in the past.
The timing for this case to hit the appeals circuit appears to be ideal with Justice Kavanaugh recently urging the court to open their docket to more Second Amendment cases. In general, gun rights activists and conservative ideologues already have something to look forward to with the court recently announcing they have chosen to hear a case regarding the right to carry guns in public. That is due for a decision next summer. Should Judge Benitez’s decision reach the highest court in the land as well, the odds of it being upheld are also in favor of gun proponents. The implications for the remaining assault weapon bans across the country remain serious and many predict federal legalization on the horizon.
“This case is about what should be a muscular constitutional right and whether a state can force a gun policy choice that impinges on that right with a 30-year-old failed experiment” Judge Benitez said.
For now, the wait continues to see if a Supreme Court decision will render the remaining states’ weapon bans “failed experiments.”
More about this case:
Link to a PDF copy of the official court filing for the Amici Curiae by 22 states (Lead state Arizona and 21 other states):