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California to appeal ruling overturning assault weapons ban

By LIU YINMENG in Los Angeles | China Daily Global | Updated: 2021-06-11 11:00

California Governor Gavin Newsom (3rd R) speaks with a person at a gathering point for Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) employees and family members after a mass shooting at a light-rail yard on May 26, 2021 in San Jose, California. [Photo/Agencies]

For more than 30 years, California has banned the ownership of assault weapons and the transfer of certain types of semiautomatic firearms, such as the AR-15 style rifle, with detachable magazines.

But on June 4, in a 94-page ruling, federal Judge Roger Benítez of the Southern District of California ruled that the ban violated the Second Amendment to the US Constitution. He called the ban on assault weapons "a failed experiment" that "has had no effect" in reducing mass shootings in the state.

He compared AR-15 rifles to a Swiss army knife, saying they are "a perfect combination of home defense weapon and homeland defense equipment".

"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," the judge wrote.

In California, murder by knife occurs seven times more often than murder by rifle, added Benitez, who issued a permanent injunction against the enforcement of the law but stayed it for 30 days to give the state time to appeal.

The decision quickly drew a backlash from California officials and many gun control advocates in the state, who argued that the law is needed to protect the safety of Californians.

In a news conference on Thursday, California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced that the state has appealed the judge's decision.

"The ban on assault weapons will not put an end to all gun violence, but it is one important tool the state has to protect the safety of Californians while also respecting the rights of law-abiding residents who choose to possess firearms. We have appealed the District Court's ruling and will continue our defense of the state's commonsense gun laws," Bonta said.

Bonta said he also will ask the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to extend the current 30-day stay of the decision throughout the appeal process.

California Governor Gavin Newsom, who joined Bonta at the news briefing, said California's assault weapons ban "has saved lives".

"This ban was enacted after a shooting that took the lives of five schoolchildren and injured countless more, and my administration will do whatever it takes to continue protecting Californians and leading the nation in gun-safety laws. This is a fight California will never back down from, period," Newsom said.

The Firearms Policy Coalition, one of the plaintiffs that sued to overturn the assault weapons ban, vowed in a statement to "aggressively litigate this case on appeal" and to "take every action" to defend the District Court's decision "up to and at the US Supreme Court".

California became the first state to ban assault weapons when the Roberti-Roos Assault Weapons Control Act of 1989 was signed into law. The ban followed a shooting at an elementary school in Stockton that year in which five schoolchildren were killed. The shooter, 24-year-old Patrick Purdy, used an AKS rifle, a semiautomatic version of the military's AK-47, according to the National Institute of Justice.

In 1994, Congress passed a federal assault weapons ban, which expired a decade later. Besides California, other states with assault weapons bans include New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland and Massachusetts.

David Liu, owner of Arcadia Firearm & Safety, told China Daily that he doesn't expect the judge's decision to have any impact on current gun laws in California.

"The judge is famous for supporting the guns owners' rights, so I'm not surprised at all by his decision," Liu said.

The assault weapons ban has had no impact on mass shootings, Liu said, because suspects could obtain the weapons through illegal means despite enactment of the ban. Instead, the ban makes it hard for law-abiding citizens to obtain guns to protect themselves.

According to Everytown for Gun Safety, when combined with high-capacity magazines, assault weapons enable a shooter to fire "a devastating number of rounds over a short period".

From 2009 to 2020, there were at least 30 mass shootings that involved the use of an assault weapon, resulting in 347 deaths and 719 injuries, according to data from the organization. Assault weapons are not used in the majority of mass shootings, but when they are, six times as many people are shot per incident than when there was no assault weapon.

Eighty-one percent of the mass shootings from 2009 to 2020 involved a handgun, 16 percent of the mass shootings in the same period involved an assault weapon, and 55 percent involved a high-capacity magazine, data from the organization shows.

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