By now, nearly every American gun owner who keeps a close eye on Second Amendment politics already knows that a federal judge late last week ruled that California’s ban on so-called “assault weapons” is unconstitutional. But given the constant appeals in such cases and the tenacity of the California state government to never give up on litigating a gun ban, will that ruling really make any difference in the long run?
Judge Calls California Assault Weapon Ban Unconstitutional
First, some background on the case. On Friday, 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.
“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, a George W. Bush appointee, also noted, “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 machine guns. Those arms are dangerous and solely useful for military purposes. This is an average case about average guns used in average ways for average purposes.”
Interestingly, even as anti-gun politicians at the federal level are currently clamoring for a similar law, Benitez noted in his ruling that the California AWB had been grossly ineffective, stating, “California’s experiment is a failure.”
Of course, the state of California quickly noted it would appeal the ruling. Unfortunately, a 30-day stay keeps the current law in effect for now.
Cali Pushes Back
“Today’s decision is fundamentally flawed, and we will be appealing it,” California Attorney General Rob 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.”
Some will shrug off the ruling as a temporary victory only to receive overturn later, but we need to look at this ruling differently. Even though the eventual outcome is uncertain as the case travels through the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, this simple ruling matters in that it has at least some positive effect on the ongoing gun control debate.
First, such a ruling can act as a guideline for other courts in considering the constitutionality of similar laws, whether in other states or on a federal basis. Expect statements beginning with, “As ruled by Judge Roger Benitez in the case Miller v. Bonta …” to pop up in future AWB opinions, as the ruling provides some cover for other open-minded judges to more easily rule in favor of the Second Amendment.
Secondly, the ruling will serve to further embolden those on the pro-2A side of the debate. It takes constant effort to continue the battle to save the Second Amendment in the face of well-funded gun-ban groups and a largely anti-gun “mainstream” media constantly shouting the dangers of so-called “assault weapons” at every opportunity. While those fighting the good fight know they are on the right side, it’s heartening to occasionally have a court rule exactly what they have always known to be true.
Will Pro-Gun Democrats Emerge?
Also, this ruling that “assault weapons” bans are unconstitutional might be all the support a pro-gun Democrat in the U.S. Senate needs to actually vote against such a ban, despite most Democrats on a federal level supporting a ban. With the current makeup of the Senate, every vote is extremely important.
Lastly, perhaps the ruling will cause some citizens currently on the fence in the gun debate—a wide swath of good Americans who aren’t paying much attention to the matter—to lean a little more toward our way of thinking. There’s power in numbers, especially at the ballot box. What a difference it would make if voters who have never voted on the basis of a candidate’s Second Amendment record decided to do so in next year’s midterms!
Above all, regardless of the eventual outcome in a higher court, this ruling proves monumental. Everyone in California and throughout the country preserved a little bit more freedom with this decision. That comprises a victory worth celebrating.