On Friday night, United States District Court Judge Roger Benitez struck down California’s ban on assault weapons in Miller v. Bonta. The opinion of senior, semi-retired The judge begins: “Like the Swiss army knife, the popular AR-15 is a perfect combination of national defense weapon and national defense equipment.” The assault weapon has been used in numerous mass shootings.
He mentions in passing, and sets aside, the standard established by the appeals court, the Ninth Circuit, before which his ruling will now be appealed by the California Attorney General. It seems that Benítez, who was appointed in 2004 by President George W. Bush, knows that the appeals court on him would never reject Benítez’s blessing of the AR-15 as a “Swiss army knife.” In his 94-page ruling, Justice Benítez clearly aims to take the case to the Supreme Court, with his three new Trump-appointed justices, and achieve what he seeks, a radical doctrine that the Second Amendment extends to the arms of mass murder. helpless and desperate victims.
The press will likely take Benitez’s lengthy opinion at face value as if it came from an average federal judge. Let’s look at five factors for Benítez’s terrifying failure.
First, this is not Judge Benítez’s first ruling on weapons of mass murder. In 2019, it ruled against California’s ban on large capacity chargers. Benítez wrote: “The California law that prohibits the acquisition and possession of magazines with a capacity for more than 10 rounds imposes a severe restriction on the fundamental right of self-defense of the home.” After a bizarre assertion by a three-judge panel, the state attorney general requested an en banc hearing (the entire court, not just a 3-judge panel), which was granted by the full court of appeals.
Second, it’s likely not a coincidence that this latest assault weapons lobbying case made its way to Benítez.
When the gun lobby brought this new case, they probably said in the forms filed with the court clerk that this case was “related” to the high-capacity magazine case to be assigned to Benítez. This is a tactic that I have seen the gun lobby use before in cases where I was involved as general counsel in the House of Representatives. Without an actual trial, the court clerk routinely accepts at face value that he was “related” and therefore assigns this new assault weapon case to Benítez. Benítez, of course, is delighted.
Third, this is no small matter. Gun lobbyists for judges leaned in favor of guns for mass murder. They wanted Benítez, they bought him, they bought him. That is not supposed to happen in a fair and equitable judicial system.
Fourth, Benítez was appointed a federal judge, although more than 10 of the 15 members of the American Bar Association’s compensation committee gave Benítez an unqualified rating. The ABA said: “Judge Benitez is ‘arrogant, pompous, condescending, impatient, short-tempered, rude, insulting, intimidating, unnecessarily mean and completely lacking in people skills.’
Fifth, Benitez made this decision in the face of an overwhelming trial record by the California Attorney General. They showed -as quoted in Benítez’s opinion- regarding assault weapons: “Even in California, despite being banned for 20 to 30 years, according to the State’s own evidence, there are 185,569 registered“ assault weapons ” currently with the California Department of Justice. “Defs. Exh. CZ, Glover Decl. at ¶ 7 (DEF3222). Another 52,000 assault weapons registrations were accumulated and went unrecorded when California’s last registration period closed in 2018. Watch n. 37 infra. The Attorney General further showed: “There are probably many more in California. Based on state evidence, a 2018 California Safety and Wellness Survey reports that 4.2 million adult Californians personally own a firearm. And Californians own approximately 19.9 million firearms. According to this survey, of the 19.9 million firearms in the state, assault weapons account for 5% or approximately 1,000,000. Californians buy a lot of firearms. In 2020 alone, residents bought 1,165,309 firearms. ”
The Attorney General further showed, and Benítez admitted: “If 48% of the rifles sold nationally are modern” assault “rifles, it can be inferred that Californians would have bought modern rifles [assault weapons] at the same speed. So of the 368,337 rifles actually purchased as of January 1, 2020 in California, it is reasonable to infer that an additional 176,801 modern rifles would have been added to California’s stockpiles, were it not for the assault weapons ban. “
So, as the Attorney General has shown, and even Benitez admits, there is a huge pent-up demand in California to buy hundreds of thousands of assault weapons per year or so to add to the current million. Assault weapons that could be used for more mass murder.