California files appeal after judge overturns decades-old assault-weapon ban

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California on Thursday appealed a judge’s ruling that overturned the state’s decades-old ban on assault weapons, claiming it was an outlier to at least six other federal decisions and an attempt to get it in front of the conservative-leaning U.S. Supreme Court.

State Attorney General Rob Bonta filed the three-page appeal with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco following U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez’s decision last Friday. 

Bonta argued the 32-year-old law was needed “to protect the safety of Californians,” according to The Los Angeles Times. 

He will ask the court for a stay so the ban will remain in effect during the appeals process.

Benitez ruled that the ban violated the Second Amendment and deprived law-abiding gun owners of common firearms readily available in other states. “Under no level of heightened scrutiny can the law survive,” he said in his decision. 


He also controversially compared the AR-15 rifle to a Swiss Army knife, calling it “a perfect combination of home defense weapon and homeland defense equipment. Good for both home and battle.”

San Francisco General trauma surgeon Dr. Andre Campbell disagreed with Benitez’s assessment. 

California Attorney General Rob Bonta announces that the state is appealing a recent decision by a federal judge to overturn a ban on assault weapons during a news conference in San Francisco, Thursday, June 10, 2021. He was joined by Robyn Thomas of the Giffords Law Center, Dr. Andre Campbell of San Francisco General Hospital and San Francisco Mayor London Breed. (Associated Press)

“An AR-15 is a weapon of mass destruction … used in warfare,” Campbell said at the hospital during the appeal announcement. It “causes absolute devastation to the human body. It is as if a bomb went off in the tissues of the patient.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom denounced Benitez as “a stone-cold ideologue. He is a wholly owned subsidiary of the gun lobby of the National Rifle Association.”

“We need to call this federal judge out,” Newsom continued. “He will continue to do damage, mark my word. This is a very focused agenda to work through this judge, where the decision’s already made before it’s even presented, who writes ‘press releases’ on behalf of the gun lobby.”

The Firearms Policy Coalition, which led plaintiffs who won at the trial level, condemned the governor’s “outrageous and callous personal attacks” on the judge.


“Newsom’s verbal assaults on a long-respected member of the judiciary shows his deep and continuing disrespect for the rule of law, the judiciary, the Constitution, and the human rights of California citizens,” the group said.

“Newsom’s verbal assaults on a long-respected member of the judiciary shows his deep and continuing disrespect for the rule of law, the judiciary, the Constitution, and the human rights of California citizens.” 

— Firearms Policy Coalition

The state already is appealing Benitez’s 2017 ruling against the state’s nearly two-decade-old ban on the sales and purchases of magazines holding more than 10 bullets and his ruling last year blocking a 2019 California law requiring background checks for anyone buying ammunition.


California first banned specific brands of weapons in 1989 after a mass shooting at a Stockton elementary school killed five children and injured more than two dozen others. The state has updated the law several times since then and overall has some of the nation’s strictest firearms laws.

“The State’s desire to continue imposing its ban should not be allowed to prevail over the fundamental rights of law-abiding gun owners,” the Firearms Policy Coalition said. It argued AR-15s aren’t any more than other firearms allowed by the state. 

The ruling could have implications outside of California where six other states and Washington, D.C. have similar assault weapon bans, according to The Times

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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