The anti-gun lobby is screeching, becoming downright shrill, which tells you something. They are losing the rational debate over whether Americans have an established, unchanging, constitutional right to own guns for all purposes, self-protection, hunting, target shooting, and a buffer against government overreach. A fresh decision last week punctuates the point.
Last week, a US District Court Judge in California, Roger Benitez, upended California’s 30-year ban on AR-15 rifles – a semi-automatic firearm critics dub an “assault weapon” for “style.” Seven states and DC ban “assault weapons,” making the case salient and certain to be appealed, perhaps to a conservative Supreme Court.
On the facts, California outlawed “assault weapons” in 1989.
The ban was challenged in 2019. The ruling stayed for 30 days to allow for appeal, incontrovertibly disposes of the gun ban.
Wrote Judge Benitez: “This case is 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,” adding “government is not free to impose its own new policy choices on American citizens where Constitutional rights are concerned.” He offered an analogy. “Like the Swiss army knife, the popular AR-15 rifle is a perfect combination of home defense weapon and homeland defense equipment.” Critics hate the analogy.
While the decision is premised on a clear constitutional right to “keep and bear arms,” nested in established Supreme Court precedent, and lines up with recent caselaw in parallel jurisdictions, Democrat lawmakers are apoplectic. See, BREAKING: Federal Judge Overturns California’s AR15 Ban.
Biden’s team is religiously anti-gun, from Vice President Harris’ prosecution of gun makers in California to Attorney General Merrick Garland’s anti-gun judicial decisions, ATF nominee David Chipman and erstwhile candidate “Hell, yes, we’re coming for your AR-15” Beto O’Rourke. See, e.g., Everything You Need to Know About Kamala Harris’s Anti-Gun Record; Everything You Need to Know About Kamala Harris’s Anti-Gun Record; Beto says police would enforce gun confiscation under his buyback plan: ‘There have to be consequences’; Biden ATF Nominee Has Long History of Anti-Gun Statements; Biden’s ATF Director Nominee is an Anti-Gun Train Wreck.
Democrat reactions were swift – not discussing case law, nuances, prevailing Supreme Court precedent, or definitional ambiguities on “assault weapons,” which dog Biden’s ATF nominee.
Instead, they were caustic, picking apart the judge’s analogy – a Swiss Army knife – for describing this popular, semi-automatic firearm with varying styles, attachments, and uses. Said California’s Democrat Attorney General Rob Bonta: “Today’s decision is fundamentally flawed, and we will be appealing it.”
California’s embattled Democrat Governor, Gavin Newsom, called it a “disgusting slap,” disparaged the Swiss Army Knife analogy, signaled for a media chorus. See, e.g., ‘Disgusting slap in the face’: Newsom’s response to judge’s overturn on assault weapons ban; A Federal Judge Just Compared an AR-15 to a Swiss Army Knife.
The Bush-appointed judge’s record – over 18 years on the bench – is distinguished by upholding constitutional rights, not clipping them. His 2nd Amendment decisions include a 120-page opinion in 2020, overturning California’s background check for ammunition purchases, at a time when urban violence in California was creating gun-owners – who needed ammunition. He wrote: “California’s new ammunition background check law misfires and the Second Amendment rights of California citizens have been gravely injured,” causing the state to appeal.
In 2019, Benitez upended California’s ban on high-capacity magazines, writing: “California’s law prohibiting acquisition and possession of magazines able to hold any more than ten rounds places a severe restriction on the core right of self-defense of the home such that it amounts to a destruction of the right and is unconstitutional under any level of scrutiny.”
Interestingly, between 2007 and 2017, when AR-15 purchases quickly rose, the number of homicides by rifles was falling.
While data is imprecise, homicides committed by rifles fell from near four percent to below two percent. Moreover, three times as many homicides were committed by knives as by rifles – and in California, a higher ratio – suggesting the judge may have done a disservice to AR-15s when comparing them to knives. See, e.g., Are AR-15 Rifles a Public Safety Threat? Here’s What the Data Say; Gavin Newsom Rages, Makes False Claims After Federal Judge Strikes Down California’s ‘Unconstitutional’ Gun Ban.
The big picture is worth seeing. “According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation … modern sporting rifles, like AR-15-style rifles, are the most common firearm in the country.” Experts note the firearm is not automatic, is used for varying purposes, and less powerful than many common hunting rifles. See, The Number of AR-15s In America Will Shock Anti-Gunners.
As left-leaning political actors screech for gun control – with one former Democrat-appointed Supreme Court Justice earlier suggesting the 2nd Amendment be banned – reality is different. As gun ownership rises, driven by threats to security, purchasing rights, social unrest, street riots, and leaders threatening constitutional entitlements, judges are reaffirming the breadth and sanctity of the 2nd Amendment.
At a time when many constitutional rights are under fire, free speech and exercise of religion to other guarantees against government overreach, this right may be ascendant. We will know when one gets to the Supreme Court, which maybe soon. Until then, let us hope for more rulings like the one last week – in favor of basic 2nd Amendment rights.