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California AG appeals judge's ruling overturning decades-old assault weapons ban

The federal judge's decision to overturn the ban, put in place in 1989, has reignited a facet of the gun control debate in California.
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California's top prosecutor on Thursday appealed a federal judge's ruling that struck down the state's decades-old assault weapons ban as "unconstitutional," harshly criticizing the court's opinion and its arguments.

"I think we can agree that the decision was disappointing, and the reasoning, such as equating assault weapons to Swiss Army knives and false claims that Covid-19 vaccines have killed more people than mass shootings, was shocking," state Attorney General Rob Bonta said at a news conference at the Zuckerman San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center, a facility known for treating gunshot victims.

Image: Gov. Newsom Holds News Conference On California Assault Weapons Ban Case
California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Attorney General Rob Bonta announced that the state of California has filed an appeal to a recent decision by a U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez of San Diego to overturn California's three-decade-old ban on assault weapons stating that California's ban on assault weapons violates the constitutional right to bear arms, at San Francisco General Hospital on June 10, 2021.Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

Bonta, who was joined by Gov. Gavin Newsom and other Democratic officials, gun control advocates and a trauma surgeon, added that "in many ways, the opinion was disturbing and troubling and of great concern."

Bonta had said he would move swiftly to challenge Friday's decision by U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez for the Southern District of California, who has previously ruled in favor of gun rights groups in other issues. Benitez stayed his order for 30 days to give the state a chance to appeal to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court.

In his 94-page opinion, Benitez likened the AR-15 assault rifle, which has been wielded in some of the deadliest mass shootings in the U.S. in recent years, to a Swiss Army knife that could be used "for both home and battle." The comparison drew condemnation from gun control groups, and Newsom said it was a "slap in the face to the families who've lost loved ones to this weapon."

Bonta said he is also asking the appeals court to leave the state's ban on assault weapons in effect for as long as the appeals process lasts.

Benitez's ruling last week stems from a 2019 lawsuit filed by James Miller, a California resident, and the San Diego County Gun Owners, a political action committee, which alleged that the state's landmark assault weapons ban — the first of its kind in the country, established in 1989 — violates their Second Amendment rights.

The judge's ruling has drawn scrutiny for claiming that "more people have died from the Covid-19 vaccine than mass shootings in California" and that "injuries from firearms like the AR-15 ... are no different from other firearms that are common and lawful to own."

Bonta said Thursday that while no single law can fix gun violence, the state's ban on assault weapons has helped to prevent more serious shooting injuries, and that low firearms mortality rates prove "the strong regime we have addressing gun violence in California is working."