Berkeley mayor, CA governor push back on federal assault weapon ruling

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David McAllister/Staff
California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín both opposed the ruling that parts of the state's ban on assault weapons are unconstitutional.

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Roger Benitez, a federal judge of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California, ruled Friday that parts of the state’s 32-year ban on assault weapons are unconstitutional.

The ruling followed a suit filed in 2019 against the state’s attorney general by three California residents and the San Diego County Gun Owners Political Action Committee, according to a CBS article.

“The banned ‘assault weapons’ are not bazookas, howitzers, or machineguns,” Benitez said in the decision. “Instead, the firearms deemed ‘assault weapons’ are fairly ordinary, popular, modern rifles.”

Benitez compared the AR-15 to a Swiss Army knife because of its versatility, noting that the semi-automatic rifle is protected under the Second Amendment. He said in the decision the term assault weapon is a “misnomer” that emphasizes the dangerous aspects of a weapon that can be used for personal and public safety.

The judge’s ruling was met with opposition from both California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín.

“The fact that this judge compared the AR-15 – a weapon of war that’s used on the battlefield – to a Swiss Army Knife completely undermines the credibility of this decision and is a slap in the face to the families who’ve lost loved ones to this weapon,” Newsom said in a press release. “We’re not backing down from this fight, and we’ll continue pushing for common sense gun laws that will save lives.”

Benitez granted the ruling a 30-day stay, after which it will become law given no further action. However, California Attorney General Rob Bonta said he intends to appeal the decision in a statement Friday.

Arreguín applauded Bonta’s announcement, adding that it is critical to fight for the public health and safety measure.

“I am outraged that on Gun Violence Awareness Day, federal courts have struck down California’s assault weapons ban,” Arreguín said in an email. “Assault weapons serve no purpose and are weapons of death & destruction.”

In 1989, a deadly school shooting in Stockton prompted California to pass the first statewide ban on assault weapons, according to a New York Times article.

The Assault Weapon Control Act prohibits the transportation, sale and possession of any assault weapon, including the AR-15. Since its passing, the act has faced opposition from pro-gun rights organizations, including the Firearms Policy Coalition and the National Rifle Association.

An AR-15 was used in several mass shootings within the United States, according to William Morrow, campus Gun Violence Prevention Project co-director. These include the shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Pulse nightclub and Stoneman Douglas High School.

“The California assault weapons ban was a major step forward to try and make California communities safer, to get particularly dangerous weapons off of the streets and out of our communities,” Morrow said.

Contact Emma Talia and Lauren Huang at [email protected].