California‘s Democrat governor decried in starkly personal terms a federal judge’s upending of the state’s extralegal effort to restrict so-called assault weapons as officials announced the filing Thursday of a formal notice that they will appeal the decision.
They characterized last week’s ruling by U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez as an outlier that conflicted with at least six other federal decisions upholding assault weapons laws in California and elsewhere, claiming that the ruling was designed to get the issue before the conservative U.S. Supreme Court.
It comes, however, as many on the Left seemed determined to test the will of the courts by enacting wide-ranging anti-gun laws that would undoubtedly run up against commonsense legal interpretations of the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms.
Gov. Gavin Newsom—facing a heated recall election of his own—levied a string of partisan, ad hominem attacks Benitez. He accused the judge of being “a stone cold ideologue” who was a “wholly owned subsidiary of the gun lobby of the National Rifle Association.”
The deep-blue state already is appealing the same judge’s 2017 ruling against its 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.
Echoing the extortionist rhetoric used by Congressional Democrats and the Biden administration to coerce the Supreme Court with threats of court-packing, Newsom hinted at some sort of implicit threat to exact revenge on the judge.
“We need to call this federal judge out,” Newsom said.
“He will continue to do damage, mark my word,” the governor continued. “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.
A three-judge appeals court panel agreed with Benitez on his ammunition magazine ruling, but the decision is being reconsidered by a larger appellate panel.
State Attorney General Rob Bonta filed the three-page notice of appeal and plans to ask the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for a stay so the current assault-weapons ban will remain in effect throughout the appeals process.
Benitez ruled on Friday that the state’s overly broad definition of ‘assault’ rifles violates the U.S. Constitution because it deprives law-abiding Californians of weapons commonly allowed in most other states.
Critics of the ruling including Bonta and Newsom were particularly upset with the judge’s comparison of assault weapons to a common tool: “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 judge wrote.
California first banned specific brands of weapons in 1989 after a mass shooting at a Stockton elementary school. The state has updated the law several times since then and overall has some of the nation’s strictest firearms laws.
As a result, “we have one of the lowest gun death rates in the entire country,” said Robyn Thomas, executive director of the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
In terms of homicide, California typically false around the middle, with between 4 and 5 per 100,000 people according to the most recent available data. However, that is largely due to the size of its population, with the total number of murders far eclipsing those of most smaller states.
The Firearms Policy Coalition, which said it will oppose any stay of Benitez’ order, had argued in part that ‘assault’ weapons are no more deadly than some other weapons that are not banned by the state.
“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 group said.
Democrats who control the state Assembly on Thursday revived for future consideration a bill that would raise taxes on the sale of guns and ammunition.
The bill requires a two-thirds vote because it would raise taxes, and last week it failed to muster enough votes. It would impose a 10% tax on the sales price of handguns and an 11% tax on the sales price of rifles, precursor parts and ammunition, using the money for gun violence prevention and recovery programs.
Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press