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California Appeals San Diego Judge's Ruling Overturning Assault Weapon Ban

Three variations of the AR-15 rifle are displayed at the California Department of Justice in Sacramento, Calif., in a 2012 photo.
Rich Pedroncelli AP
Three variations of the AR-15 rifle are displayed at the California Department of Justice in Sacramento, Calif., in a 2012 photo.
A federal appeals court panel Monday put an indefinite hold on a San Diego federal judge's ruling that overturned California's three-decade-old ban on assault weapons.

A federal appeals court panel Monday put an indefinite hold on a San Diego federal judge's ruling that overturned California's three-decade-old ban on assault weapons.

The order by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals panel came in response to a challenge to the ruling filed earlier this month by the state.

"This leaves our assault weapons laws in effect while appellate proceedings continue," state Attorney General Rob Bonta wrote on his Twitter account in response to the action. "We won't stop defending these life-saving laws."

In early June, U.S. District Judge Roger T. Benitez issued a 94-page ruling striking down the state's assault weapons ban.

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"Like the Swiss Army knife, the popular AR-15 rifle is a perfect combination of home defense weapon and homeland defense equipment," Benitez wrote in the ruling. "Good for both home and battle, the AR-15 is the kind of versatile gun that lies at the intersection of the kinds of firearms protected under District of Columbia v. Heller and United States v. Miller."

Bonta decried that comparison, saying, "Equating firearms that have been used in many of the deadliest mass shootings in this country with Swiss Army knives has no basis in law or fact. 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."

The ruling, which stemmed from a lawsuit filed by local gun proponents, marked the third time in recent years that Benitez has blocked state laws related to firearms or ammunition. The judge previously ruled against California's laws that banned high-capacity magazines and required background checks for ammo purchases, finding in each instance that state gun laws have infringed upon the Second Amendment rights of Californians.

In the assault weapon ruling, Benitez wrote that "the state's definition of illegal military-style rifles unlawfully deprives law-abiding Californians of weapons commonly allowed in most other states."

In a news conference in San Francisco with Bonta announcing the appeal, Gov. Gavin Newsom issued harsh condemnations of Benitez and his history of striking down California gun laws, calling the judge "a wholly owned subsidiary of the gun lobby and the National Rifle Association," while criticizing the timing of the ruling, which was issued on National Gun Violence Awareness Day.

The Firearms Policy Coalition, which filed the lawsuit that was the basis of Benitez's ruling, has pledged to "aggressively litigate this case on appeal and will take every action to defend the court's legally and historically correct decision up to and at the U.S. Supreme Court."

The FPC took issue with Newsom's "outrageous and callous personal attacks" on Benitez, which the group said "shows (Newsom's) deep and continuing disrespect for the rule of law, the judiciary, the Constitution, and the human rights of California citizens."