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Court Rules California AWB Unconstitutional

Breaking late in the day on Friday June 4, 2021, Judge Benitez of the United States District Court for the Southern District of California struck down California's so-called “assault weapon” ban.

The introduction of the decision tells the tale:

Like the Swiss Army Knife, the popular AR-15 rifle is a perfect combination of
home defense weapon and homeland defense equipment. 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 AR15 type rifle. Therefore, this Court declares the California statutes to be unconstitutional.

[The full 94 page decision can be read here]

This doesn't mean every California resident can legally run out and swap their featureless builds to full functionality quite yet; a 30-day stay is baked in, and undoubtedly the ruling will be challenged in the 9th Circuit court. We will update as more information becomes available.

The Firearms Policy Coalition was behind the initial lawsuit filed in 2019, and here's what they have to say about it:

SAN DIEGO, CA (June 4, 2021) — Today, Firearms Policy Coalition (FPC) announced that Judge Roger T. Benitez of the Southern District of California has issued an opinion in Miller v. Bonta (previously Miller v. Becerra), holding that California’s tyrannical ban on so-called “assault weapons” is unconstitutional under the Second Amendment. The opinion, along with other filings in this case, can be viewed at AssaultWeaponLawsuit.com.

In 2019, FPC developed and filed Miller v. Becerra, a federal Second Amendment challenge to California’s Assault Weapons Control Act (AWCA) ban on common semiautomatic arms with certain characteristics, including those with ammunition magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds. Throughout the lawsuit, FPC argued that the State’s ban prohibits arms that are constitutionally protected, no more lethal than other certain arms that are not banned, and commonly possessed and used for lawful purposes in the vast majority of the United States.

In the opinion, the Court ruled that many categories of firearms California bans as so-called “assault weapons” are protected by the Second Amendment, and that “[t]he Second Amendment stands as a shield from government imposition of that policy.” It went on to order an injunction against “Defendant Attorney General Rob Bonta, and his officers, agents, servants, employees, and attorneys, and those persons in active concert or participation with him, and those duly sworn state peace officers and federal law enforcement officers who gain knowledge of this injunction order or know of the existence of this injunction order,” preventing them “from implementing or enforcing” the following:

California Penal Code §§ 30515(a)(1) through (8) (defining an “assault weapon” by prohibited features);
§ 30800 (deeming those “assault weapons” a public nuisance);
§ 30915 (regulating those “assault weapons” obtained by bequest or inheritance);
§ 30925 (restricting importation of those “assault weapons” by new residents);
§ 30945 (restricting use of those registered “assault weapons”) ;
§30950 (prohibiting possession of those “assault weapons” by minors); and,
the penalty provisions §§ 30600, 30605 and 30800 as applied to “assault weapons” defined in Code §§ 30515(a)(1) through (8).
“In his order today, Judge Benitez held what millions of Americans already know to be true: Bans on so-called ‘assault weapons’ are unconstitutional and cannot stand,” said FPC President Brandon Combs. “This historic victory for individual liberty is just the beginning, and FPC will continue to aggressively challenge these laws throughout the United States. We look forward to continuing this challenge at the Ninth Circuit and, should it be necessary, the Supreme Court.”

“We are delighted with Judge Benitez’s careful consideration of the law and facts in this case,” commented Adam Kraut, FPC’s Senior Director of Legal Operations. “The State’s ban on these common semi-automatic firearms with common characteristics flies in the face of the Constitution, Supreme Court precedent, and the natural right to keep and bear arms.”

“At trial, we presented dispositive evidence that the term ‘assault weapon’ has always been an arbitrary label used by anti-gun governments to ban constitutionally protected firearms,” explained FPC attorney George Lee. “In the end, the State’s rationale for banning these firearms simply could not hold up. This win is a watershed moment for civil rights, and will restore liberty to countless Californians that have been subjected to gross tyranny for years.”

“While this victory is most certainly a valuable one, it’s also important to understand how impactful this decision will be in restoring Second Amendment rights not only in California, but across the entire country,” noted FPC Attorney John Dillon. “This landmark trial win points the way to victory everywhere these unconstitutional bans exist.”

“We are pleased that the district court engaged in the detailed and thoughtful analysis required when a fundamental constitutional right is at stake,” explained FPC appellate counsel Erik Jaffe. “Unlike some appellate decisions in this area, Judge Benitez held the government to its burdens of proof, recognized the high hurdles the government must overcome when burdening the right to keep and bear arms, and gave the Second Amendment the weight and respect it deserves. Such a standard was rightfully unable to be met by such a broad and oppressive law, leading to a huge victory for the People, their right to keep and bear arms, and FPC. We now must urge the Court of Appeals to give the same respect to that express constitutional right, rather than engage in the ad hoc balancing and functionally zero weighting of a fundamental right that is too often the norm in Second Amendment cases.”

 


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