If one bothers to read his opinion, which most anti-gun, anti-Second Amendment zealots will not, including your outraged friends on social media, it is clear that that the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California judge’s long overdue ruling striking down the state’s three-decade-old unconstitutional ban on so-called “assault weapons” is well reasoned, well-researched, and difficult to rebut. As usual, those who want to remove the right to bear arms from law abiding Americans (while law-defying Americans continue to do as they please) are resorting to emotion and dishonesty to argue their case.
It is unfortunate that the judge, who is not one of those evil Trump judges but a moderate appointed by President Bush II, began his opinion with an invitation to be misquoted and misunderstood. “Like the Swiss Army Knife, the popular AR-15 rifle is a perfect combination of home defense weapon and homeland defense equipment,” Judge Benitez wrote, so furious would-be gun-grabbers are aping California Governor Gavin Newsom, who tweeted,
“Overturning CA’s assault weapon ban and comparing an AR-15 to a SWISS ARMY KNIFE is a disgusting slap in the face to those who have lost loved ones to gun violence. This is a direct threat to public safety and innocent Californians. We won’t stand for it.”
This raises the question, so frequently encountered on Ethics Alarms, of whether a speaker is deliberately lying, or just stupid. In this case, it is also possible that he only read the first sentence, which is irresponsible. Benitez, as the rest of his opinion makes crystal clear, was comparing the versatility of an AR-15 to a Swiss Army Knife, not their characteristics as weapons. An important part of his opinion explains that when the California legislature banned semi-automatic rifles,it never even considered the weapon’s value for self defense, and not just as a “sporting rifle.” (The Red Sox have a utility player named Marwin Gonzalez, and I have heard him compared to a Swiss Army Knife because he can play almost any position; in other words, he’s versatile. No baseball writer has been so foolish as to mock the characterization by saying that the comparison is ridiculous because the knives aren’t alive, Gonzales isn’t Swiss, and he’s much, much bigger.) It is also a non sequitur to call a ruling based on black letter law a “slap in the face” to anyone. Not following the Constitution, as California frequently wants to do, is a slap in the face of democracy.
There are two main thrusts of the opinion. The first is a familiar one: what the anti-gun lobby calls “assault weapons” because it sounds scary are just modern rifles. “As an aside, the ‘assault weapon’ epithet is a bit of a misnomer,” the judge writes. “These prohibited guns, like all guns, are dangerous weapons. However, these prohibited guns, like all guns, can be used for ill or for good. They could just as well be called ‘home defense rifles’ or ‘anti-crime guns’.” Thanks to laziness or deliberate obfuscation by the news media and misinformation by resolutely ignorant pols like California’s Diane Feinstein, most of the public thinks that semi-automatic rifles, or “assault rifles,” are automatic weapons. They aren’t. The California law called semi-automatic weapons “assault-type” weapons to evoke images of military weapons and deliberately confuse the public. For anti-gun hysterics who shudder in terror at the sight of a toy gun in the hands of a six-year-old, this is especially effective.
The second main thrust is that the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark holding in District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008) made the California law unconstitutional and a violation of the Second Amendment more than a decade ago. Judge Benitez writes, “The Second Amendment ‘elevates above all other interests the right of law-abiding, responsible citizens to use arms in defense of hearth and home.’ Heller, 554 U.S., at 635. The Supreme Court clearly holds that the Second Amendment protects guns commonly owned by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes.” He then elaborates,
“This case is not about extraordinary weapons lying at the outer limits of Second Amendment protection. The banned “assault weapons” are not bazookas, howitzers, or machineguns. Those arms are dangerous and solely useful for military purposes. Instead, the firearms deemed “assault weapons” are fairly ordinary, popular, modern rifles. This is an average case about average guns used in average ways for average purposes.”
Ah, but thanks to the propaganda, most Americans think “assault weapons” ARE machine guns. The opinion continues,
“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. Federal Bureau of Investigation murder statistics do not track assault rifles, but they do show that killing by knife attack is far more common than murder by any kind of rifle. In California, murder by knife occurs seven times more often than murder by rifle. For example, according to F.B.I. statistics for 2019, California saw 252 people murdered with a knife, while 34 people were killed with some type of rifle – not necessarily an AR-15.2 A Californian is three times more likely to be murdered by an attacker’s bare hands, fists, or feet, than by his rifle.3 In 2018, the statistics were even more lopsided as California saw only 24 murders by some type of rifle.4 The same pattern can be observed across the nation.”
Moreover, the judge explains, when the California law was passed more than 20 years before Heller settled the issue, “most judicial thinking about the Second Amendment was incorrect. Prior to 2008, lower court opinions did not acknowledge that the Second Amendment conferred an individual right to own firearms, or that the right applied against the states.” He continues in part,
“In the year 1989, the California Legislature was not concerned with maintaining room for a citizen’s constitutional right to have a common firearm of one’s choosing to defend hearth and home. In making its policy choice, the California Legislature neither mentioned a modern rifle as a means of self-defense, nor did the core Second Amendment right appear to have been any part of its consideration. The formal legislative findings say nothing about self-defense…”
In short, subsequent SCOTUS holdings regarding the Second Amendment rendered California’s ban unconstitutional, and the law was misguided to begin with. The anti-gun activists are now savaging the judge and vowing to appeal, fight, and make mean faces, but the fact is that they are wrong on the law, and a professional, analytical judge finally struck down what had defied the Bill of Rights for over 30 years.
Read the whole opinion, which is wonderfully clear and lacking in legal jargon. Anyone should be able to understand it, which is why people like Newsom will rely on hysteria and misrepresentation rather than attempt to rebut what they cannot using logic and facts.