A challenge to California’s “assault weapon” ban was struck down by a federal judge last week, setting the stage for an appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court and, possibly, the U.S. Supreme Court.
U.S. District Judge Josephine Staton of Santa Ana was the first federal judge to rule on the state’s controversial law. She argued that “assault weapons” are “incredibly effective killing machines” and are not commonly used or necessary for self-defense.
“Because the Court concludes that semiautomatic assault rifles are essentially indistinguishable from M-16s, which Heller noted could be banned pursuant to longstanding prohibitions on dangerous and usual weapons, the Court need not reach the question of whether semiautomatic rifles are excluded from the Second Amendment because they are not in common use for lawful purposes like self-defense,” Staton said.
Plaintiffs in the case, all California gun owners who want to own the semi-automatic rifles California currently prohibits, were represented by the California Rifle and Pistol Association. In their suit, they cited a 2011 dissenting opinion by now-U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who argued that Washington, D.C.’s ban on semi-automatic “assault weapons” is unconstitutional under the Second Amendment and under the Supreme Court’s Heller decision that guaranteed the individual right to keep and bear arms.
In Heller, the Court held that handguns are constitutionally protected because they have not historically been banned and they are in common use by law-abiding citizens. Because “there is no meaningful or persuasive constitutional distinction between semi-automatic handguns and semiautomatic rifles,” Kavanaugh argued, semi-automatic rifles enjoy the same protections.
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Citing what appears to be a misreading of Heller, Staton claimed that the “core” of the Second Amendment is “the right of law-abiding, responsible citizens to use arms in defense of hearth and home” – not for all law-abiding purposes. Since semi-automatic “assault weapons” are not commonly used in home defense, Staton continued, they can be restricted or banned under the Second Amendment as long as the state has a significant interest in doing so.
Under this lower form of scrutiny, Staton could rule that since “assault weapons” are dangerous, they can be banned.
“Semiautomatic rifles with non-fixed magazines, along with the other enumerated features, are incredibly effective killing machines, and the Attorney General’s evidence strongly suggests that such weapons are disproportionately used in mass shootings and that, when they are used, more people are injured and killed,” she said.
“To be sure, Plaintiffs may have legitimate interests in possessing semiautomatic rifles within the AWCA’s scope,” she concluded. “However, California has permissibly weighed those interests against the weapons’ propensity for being used for mass violence and concluded that the weapons’ lawful value is drastically outweighed by the danger they pose to California citizens.”
The case can now be appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court. From there, gun rights advocates can appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which recently agreed to rule on a case pertaining to the carrying of firearms outside the home.