US judge overturns California’s ban on assault weapons

Three-decade ban on assault weapons overturned, drawing condemnation from the state’s Democratic governor.

The judge said weapons were overwhelmingly used for legal reasons [File:AFP]

A federal judge has overturned California’s three-decades-old ban on assault weapons, ruling that it violates the constitutional right to bear arms in a blow to the state’s Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom, who condemned the order.

US District Judge Roger Benitez of San Diego ruled that the state’s definition of illegal military-style rifles unlawfully deprives law-abiding Californians of weapons commonly allowed in most other states and by the US Supreme Court.

“Under no level of heightened scrutiny can the law survive,” Benitez said on Friday. He issued a permanent injunction against enforcement of the law but stayed it for 30 days to give state Attorney General Rob Bonta time to appeal.

Governor Newsom called it “a direct threat to public safety and the lives of innocent Californians, period”.

In his 94-page ruling, the judge spoke favourably of modern weapons, saying they were overwhelmingly used for legal reasons.

“Like the Swiss Army knife, the popular AR-15 rifle is a perfect combination of home defence weapon and homeland defence equipment. Good for both home and battle,” the judge said in his ruling’s introduction.

That comparison “completely undermines the credibility of this decision and is a slap in the face to the families who’ve lost loved ones to this weapon,” Newsom said in a statement.

The decision comes as gun violence surges across the United States – and just over a week after a disgruntled, heavily armed California public transit worker shot and killed nine people.

A search this week of the shooter’s home – which was set ablaze shortly before the attack – turned up 12 guns, around 22,000 rounds of ammunition and suspected Molotov cocktails.

Mass shootings have also taken place in Florida, Indiana, California, Colorado and Georgia, in a surge in violence that President Joe Biden has branded an “epidemic”.

The US Supreme Court is also due to hear a challenge backed by the gun lobby to a New York law that restricts the carrying of firearms outside the home.

It will be the first major case involving the Second Amendment constitutional right to bear arms heard by the nation’s highest court in more than a decade.

While the coronavirus pandemic slowed workplace violence as more people stayed home, it also saw record gun sales.

In March last year, the number of weekly federal background checks on gun buyers surpassed one million for the first time, The New York Times reported.

Source: News Agencies