A federal appeals court on Monday put a hold on a federal judge’s ruling that overturned California’s 32-year-old ban on assault weapons.
The state law, which dates to 1989, was challenged in a 2019 lawsuit filed against the state’s attorney general by plaintiffs including James Miller, a California resident, and the San Diego County Gun Owners, a political action committee.
On June 4, Judge Roger T. Benitez of U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California said in a decision that the state law defining assault weapons and restricting their use was unconstitutional.
“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 the first line of a 94-page decision.
The AR-15 is “good for both home and battle,” he wrote, adding: “One is to be forgiven if one is persuaded by news media and others that the nation is awash with murderous AR-15 assault rifles. The facts, however, do not support this hyperbole, and facts matter.”
But the judge granted a 30-day stay of the ruling at the request of California’s attorney general, Rob Bonta, a move that allowed Bonta to appeal it.
In a decision on Monday, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals further extended Benitez’s stay, pending resolution of another case challenging the ban. “The stay shall remain in effect until further order of this court,” the judges wrote.
The three judges were Senior Circuit Court Judge Barry G. Silverman, nominated to the bench by President Bill Clinton; Circuit Judge Jacqueline H. Nguyen, nominated by President Barack Obama; and Circuit Judge Ryan D. Nelson, nominated by President Donald Trump.
Bonta welcomed the ruling Monday. “This leaves our assault weapons laws in effect while appellate proceedings continue,” Bonta said on Twitter. “We won’t stop defending these life-saving laws.”
Gov. Gavin Newsom did not immediately respond to requests for comment Monday night.
John Dillon, a lawyer for the plaintiffs, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday.
In the earlier ruling, Benitez wrote that the case was about “what should be a muscular constitutional right and whether a state can force a gun policy choice that impinges on that right with a 30-year-old failed experiment.” He added, “Government is not free to impose its own new policy choices on American citizens where constitutional rights are concerned.”
The firearms banned under the state’s law, he wrote, were not “bazookas, howitzers or machine guns,” but rather “fairly ordinary, popular, modern rifles.”
Benitez was nominated as a district court judge in 2003 by President George W. Bush and confirmed by the Senate the next year. In 2017, he blocked a new California law that would have banned magazines of more than 10 rounds. A three-judge panel from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld his ruling in a split decision last year, but the appeals court said in February that an 11-judge panel would rehear the case.