Ethics (And Judicial) Hero: Federal Judge Roger Benitez

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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.

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