California Judge Upholds "Assault Weapons" Ban. Now What?

A federal judge in California ruled that the state’s convoluted ban on “assault weapons” doesn’t infringe on the rights of residents in the state, in a decision that is almost certainly headed for appeal to the 9th Circuit. U.S. District Judge Josephine Stanton of the Central District of California has authored an opinion that manages to display both an anti-gun bias and an ignorance of how semi-automatic firearms work.


Stanton upheld the California gun control law by accepting the argument of California Attorney General Xavier Becerra that the semi-automatic firearms banned under California law “may be banned because they are, like the M-16, ‘weapons that are most useful in military service.’” Becerra also stated that semi-automatic rifles are “not in common use for lawful purposes like self-defense.” Judge Stanton agreed with the first half of Becerra’s argument, and that was enough for her.

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.

This idea that semi-automatic long guns are “essentially indistinguishable from M-16s” is absurd. Here’s one easy way to tell the difference between the two: you can’t by a new M-16 on the civilian market. Federal law, for one, notes a clear difference between fully automatic and semi-automatic rifles. That’s because there is a clear difference. All you have to do is go to the range with both a full-auto or select-fire rifle and a semi-automatic rifle to experience the difference first hand. Pull the trigger on the M-16 and you’ll send more than one round down range. Pull the trigger on the AR-15 and one round is fired.


We don’t send our soldiers off to war with AR-15’s. Why not, if they’re essentially indistinguishable from M-16s? The answer, of course, is that they are different, no matter how much Judge Stanton would like them to be virtually the same.

A quick tangent… even if there really was no difference between an AR-15 and an M-16, the argument that “well, the military uses this so it might not be okay for civilians” is a dumb one. What would that argument have meant in 1791, at the time the 2nd Amendment was adopted? Because the military used rifles and muskets, would civilians have been able to only legally keep and bear blunderbusses? How does that argument fit in with the Civilian Marksmanship Program? The government-run program allows U.S. civilians to purchase actual battlefield weapons of war: M1 Garands. It’s an odd argument to claim that a gun that isn’t used by our military should be outlawed for civilian use, yet a gun that has been used by our military is fine to own.

Back to the judge’s decision. Stanton claims that, because the Supreme Court ruled in the Heller case that “dangerous and unusual weapons such as “M16’s and the like” can be banned, that if the guns banned under California law can be considered “like” M16’s, they too can be banned. And how does she determine that semi-automatic rifles are like full-auto, select-fire rifles?

The difference between the M-16 and semiautomatic rifles like the AR-15 is that the M-16 allows the shooter to fire in either automatic or semiautomatic mode, while semiautomatic rifles fire only in semiautomatic mode. However, based on the evidence presented by the Attorney General, this is a distinction without a difference. In enacting the now-defunct federal ban on assault rifles, Congress found that their rate of fire––300 to 500 rounds per minute––makes semiautomatic rifles “virtually indistinguishable in practical effect from machineguns.”


Again, if that were the case our military would be using semi-automatic rifles instead of select-fire rifles capable of fully-automatic firing. Leaving that point aside, there’s another issue with Stanton’s ruling. The Supreme Court noted in Heller that arms considered both “dangerous and unusual” may fall outside the scope of the 2nd Amendment. Even if you want to try and falsely claim that AR-15’s and the like are somehow more dangerous than other firearms, it’s impossible to claim that they’re unusual in the world of gun ownership.  They’re the most commonly sold rifle in the U.S. today. As Eric Swalwell told us repeatedly in his short-lived bid for president, he wanted to “ban and buy back” 15,000,000 AR-15’s. That’s a lot of guns.  There are about 500,000 Dodge Ram pickups sold in the U.S. every year. Would anybody consider them an “unusual” or rare truck?  Of course not. Yet, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, every year about 1,300,000 rifles that California would deem “assault weapons” are sold in the U.S. They’re nearly three times as common as a Ram pickup truck. It’s not a stretch to consider them “unusual”, it’s simply a fiction.

Judge Stanton engaged in some real leaps of logic in other parts of her decision. At one point, she argues both that an expert for the plaintiffs conceded that the use of “assault weapons” in crimes declined during the ten years that the federal AWB was in place, and that it’s too early to tell what kind of impact the federal ban may have had. It’s one of many points in the opinion that made me think the judge came to the case with a decision in mind (the ban on these guns is fine) and worked backwards from there.


Again, I expect this case to be appealed to the federal 9th Circuit, but this decision will undoubtedly embolden gun control activists around the country. Expect to see several California-style bans introduced in state legislatures over the next few months, and don’t be surprised to see former California Attorney General Kamala Harris vow to put something close to California’s ban on the books if she’s elected president. From one bad decision we may see many consequences.

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