Gun-rights advocates received backup in their attempt to defeat California’s “assault weapons” ban on Wednesday.
Twenty-two Republican attorneys general filed a brief asking to intervene in the California case Miller v. Bonta. They don’t want the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to grant an emergency stay that would delay enforcement of a recent ruling striking down the state’s ban while considering an appeal from the state. The group argues California’s ban on popular firearms, including the AR-15, is unconstitutional and civilian ownership of those firearms is not only legal in the vast majority of states but actually a boon to public safety.
“The experience in Arizona and other states shows that modern rifles are common to the point of ubiquity among law-abiding gun owners, and their use promotes public safety,” they said in their brief. “Calling modern rifles ‘assault weapons’ is a misnomer—they are most often used by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes like personal protection or target and sport shooting.”
If the court sides with the AGs and gun-rights advocates and denies the emergency stay sought by California, the state’s assault weapons ban would become unenforceable. Californians would then be able to legally buy guns common in most other states but which they have been barred from owning since 1989. But the plaintiffs face an uphill battle since stays are often granted pending appeal in cases where significant laws are in question.
California pointed out in its brief supporting the request for an emergency stay that the Ninth Circuit has granted stays in multiple Second Amendment cases where other gun-control laws are implicated.
“This Court, for example, has issued stays pending appeal in recent Second Amendment cases involving certain background check requirements on ammunition purchases, and the State’s 10-day waiting period for firearm purchases,” California Attorney General Rob Bonta (D.) said in the brief. “And the same district court that issued the decision below previously granted a stay pending the appeal of its decision enjoining the State’s limits on large-capacity magazines.”
Judge Roger Benitez ruled on June 4 that California’s assault weapons ban ran afoul of the Second Amendment by restricting a whole category of firearms in common use. He said the banned guns, including the AR-15, are not unusual or abnormally dangerous.
“This case is not about extraordinary weapons lying at the outer limits of Second Amendment protection,” Benitez said in the ruling. “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.”
He stayed his ruling for 30 days to allow the state 30 days to appeal the decision. Bonta immediately appealed the ruling and asked the Ninth Circuit to issue a stay lasting the length of the case. So now the appeals court will decide what to do next.
Bonta said in his filing the court should also issue the stay because California is likely to win its appeal. He argued, “all of the other circuits to consider the constitutionality of similar laws have upheld them under the Second Amendment.” Bonta went on to say if the lower court’s ruling went into effect, it would cause Californians “irreparable harm” by allowing previously-banned guns “to flow into the State while this Court is still resolving the merits of this appeal.”
The Republican AGs said nearly all other states have provided for public safety without enacting assault weapons bans. Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich said California’s law is a result of bias against gun owners.
“Our Second Amendment is constantly under attack from out-of-touch Californians and ignorant special interest groups,” Brnovich said in a statement. “America must never abandon her law-abiding citizens and their fundamental right to defend themselves.”
Brnovich filed the brief alongside attorneys general from Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, West Virginia, and Wyoming.
Bonta requested an answer from the Ninth Circuit by June 18. The Court will have to decide what to do before the temporary stay issued by Benitez runs out on July 4.