Federal Judge Who Overturned California’s Assault Weapons Ban More Bonkers Than You Might Imagine
Last Friday, US District Judge Roger Benitez of the Southern District of California overturned the state's 32-year-ban on assault weapons. He declared the ban unconstitutional and a “failed experiment," much like gladiator sandals and, increasingly, American democracy.
Benitez's 94-page ruling is a doozy. There's not even a warm up. He launches straight into the crazy.
BENITEZ: Like the Swiss Army Knife, the popular AR-15 rifle is a perfect combination of home defense weapon and homeland defense equipment. 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, 554 U.S. 570 (2008) and United States v Miller, 307 U.S. 174 (1939). Yet, the State of California makes it a crime to have an AR-15 type rifle. Therefore, this Court declares the California statutes to be unconstitutional.
Yes, he compares the AR-15 to a goddamn Swiss Amy knife, which you can use to file your nails and open cans. The AR-15 is not recommended for either purpose. Also, Swiss Amy knives aren't used nearly as often in mass shootings.
Benitez frequently references the Supreme Court's 2008 ruling in District of Columba v. Heller as justification for overturning California's assault weapons ban, but Justice Antonin Scalia, who's still dead, wrote in the majority opinion that "... the right secured by the Second Amendment right is not unlimited.... [It is] not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose." He probably also never confused an AR-15 with a Swiss Army knife.
BENITEZ: 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. This is an average case about average guns used in average ways for average purposes.
Yeah, so, this is an AR-15:
It's mildly comforting that the victims of AR-15-related mass shootings weren't blown to bits by bazookas, but this is a very low bar. The AR-15 isn't an “average gun" used in “average ways" unless your objective is to kill a lot of people quickly.
Benitez notes that in California, "murder by knife occurs seven times more often than murder by rifle." That's an interesting statistic and somewhat meaningless considering that assault rifles were banned so that's kind of what you'd expect. However, in the United States, handguns specifically and firearms in general are the most commonly used weapons in homicides. Knives are a distant third and they also serve a non-murderous purpose. You can't carve a turkey with an AR-15, although I'm sure someone in Texas has tried.
Overturning CA’s assault weapon ban and comparing an AR-15 to a SWISS ARMY KNIFE is a disgusting slap in the face t… https://t.co/ycQWeITJr0— Gavin Newsom (@Gavin Newsom) 1622868760.0
Gun rights groups adore this ruling because Benitez makes all their favorite Soldier of Fortune-style arguments. The George W. Bush appointee pointed to Fidel Castro's toppling of the Cuban government in the late 1950s as evidence that “civilian militias are not irrelevant." This is a disturbing argument to make when armed goons stormed the US Capitol just five months ago. Civilian militias don't answer to any legal authority, which makes them next of kin to the Klan. We've already seen that rightwing loons will believe any conspiracy theory, no matter how absurd, and consider that justification for violence.
Benitez has also bought into some Q-related nonsense. He wrote in his decision that “the evidence described so far proves that the 'harm' of an assault rifle being used in a mass shooting is an infinitesimally rare event. More people have died from the Covid-19 vaccine than mass shootings in California."
There have been 18 mass shootings so far in 2021. The supposed death toll from the COVID-19 vaccine is some Tucker Carlson bullshit. I know someone who died after seeing The Matrix Revolutions, but while that movie is immensely disappointing, there was no direct connection. Yes, some people have died after receiving the COVID-19 vaccine, but there is no evidence that the reported deaths were caused by the vaccine.
The state of California has in the last month released data on what are known as "breakthrough" coronavirus infections in those who received vaccinations. As of May 19, there were 4,771 breakthrough cases, with 37 people dying. But these aren't people who died of the vaccine; they're people who died after contracting the coronavirus, despite receiving the vaccine. Such cases are, to borrow Benitez's phrasing, infinitesimally rare given California has vaccinated more than 20 million people.
Dear God, this is a federal judge who's a complete gun nut, militia advocate, and conspiracy theorist. I'm not sure I'd trust him with a Swiss Army knife.
Gun control advocates and Democrats, including California Governor Gavin Newsom, have condemned Benitez's ruling, but conservatives and the gun lobby are optimistic that the case will soon advance to the Supreme Court, where Amy Coney Barrett waits.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes reviews for the A.V. Club and make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."