The government through the law “bans an entire class of very popular hardware—firearms that are lawful under federal law and under the laws of most states and that are commonly held by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes,” U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez, a George W. Bush nominee, wrote in his 94-page ruling in Miller et al. v Bonta et al.
“Under no level of heightened scrutiny can the law survive,” he added.
California laws prohibit the manufacture, use, or sale of an “assault weapon,” defined as a semiautomatic rifle with certain characteristics such as a fixed magazine that has the capacity to hold more than 10 rounds. People who violate the laws face a felony or a misdemeanor and could land prison sentences of up to eight years.
James Miller, a California resident who has a concealed carry permit, sued the state’s top law enforcement official in 2019 over the laws, alleging they violate his Second Amendment rights.
“Plaintiff Miller seeks to use his lawfully acquired large-capacity magazine(s) in his California-compliant, ‘fixed magazine rifle.’ However, Plaintiff Miller is prevented from lawfully doing so without risk of persecution resulting in injury to his life and liberty; and the unlawful confiscation and loss of his personal property because said use would reclassify his rifle as a prohibited ‘assault weapon,’” the lawsuit stated.
Xavier Becerra, the attorney general at the time—he has since become President Joe Biden’s health secretary, and been replaced by Rob Bonta—argued that plaintiffs lacked standing and that all federal circuit courts had previously upheld the constitutionality of assault weapon restrictions like the laws in question.
But Benitez said the Supreme Court recognizes “that the Second Amendment guarantee includes a right to keep and bear firearms that have ‘some reasonable relationship to the preservation or efficiency of a well-regulated militia,’” quoting from Miller’s filing.