America today is suffering a plague of gun violence.
It wasn’t always this way. Americans used to own guns without engaging in daily massacres. As a Chicago native, I learned as a child about the infamous St. Valentine’s Day Massacre of 1929, when members of one Chicago gang set up and killed seven members of a rival gang. It was so shocking it led to legislation that prohibited automatic weapons in the U.S.
That ban was extended with restrictions on “semiautomatic assault weapons,” as well as magazines that met the criteria for what it defined as a “large capacity ammunition feeding device,” in 1989 after 34 children and a teacher were shot and five children killed in Stockton, California with a semi-automatic Kalashnikov rifle. A pull of the trigger is required for each shot of a semi-automatic. An automatic fires continuously.
The Federal Assault Weapons ban went into effect in 1994 after a 52-48 vote in the Senate. President Bill Clinton signed it into law the same day. But times have changed. The ban expired after ten years and attempts to renew it have repeatedly failed. In 2018, another Valentine’s Day shooting, this one at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, killed 17 children and wounded 17 others. This time, then-President Donald Trump called for arming teachers, and the Republican-dominated Florida legislature rejected a bill that would have limited some high-capacity guns.
Fast forward to today. Our acceptance of violence npw stands in striking contrast to Americans’ horror at the 1929 Valentine’s Day Massacre. I’ve done the legal arguments before, most notably here in a column which includes Chief Justice Warren Berger’s declaration that the conservative reading of the Second Amendment is a “fraud.”
I won’t repeat those arguments. What I do want to do is call your attention to the latest judicial idiocy, California has had its own ban in assault weapons for thirty years. Six other states plus the District of Columbia have similar bans. You would think even if the Second Amendment restricts the Federal government on gun control, language putting the right to bear arms in the context of a “well-regulated militia” would allow the states, which at the time the Bill of Rights was written controlled the militia, to pass reasonable legislation to regulate firearms.
U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez of the United States District Court for the Southern District of California now says he knows better than Berger and the state of California. He must figure the words “well-regulated” and “militia” were just thrown in because the Framers had some extra ink they wanted to use up. In a 94-page opinion Benitez declared unconstitutional the California statute. Benitez, appointed to the bench by President George W. Bush, comes out swinging with his opening paragraph:
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.Miller v Bonta, 19-cv-1537-BEN (JLB)
The Law and Crime blog has a detailed set of quotes from the decision. I’ll dwell on just a few. Judge Benitez writes, “The assault weapons ban has had no effect. California’s experiment is a failure.” This conclusion follows an analysis that claims the rate at which assault weapons were used in mass killings in California during the years the weapons ban has been in effect has not changed. Benitez also writes that mass killings are “rare events.” He also states, “A Californian is three times more likely to be murdered by an attacker’s bare hands, fists, or feet, than by his rifle.”
The New York Times ran a partial list of recent mass shootings in the United States.
Politifact earlier this year found that 10 of 11 mass shootings were done with AR-15 weapons. Newsweek says they were used in 26 of the last 80 mass shootings. As to his other conclusion, I have to wonder if he’d like to stand up for a duel. He gets the Swiss Army knife while his challenger gets the AR-15.
The hypocrisy of the conservatives is clearly on display here. If it is the place of judges only to “say what the law is,” Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. 137 (1803), Judge Benitez’s judgments on failure and the frequency of events is way out of the base path. If you believe in a state’s right to regulate its own militia, Benitez is also out of bounds.
Voters generally support an assault weapons ban. They support a large magazine ban. They support enhanced background checks. They support closing the gun show loophole. They might support amending the Second Amendment itself to clear up the poor punctuation that the gun lobby and their supporters in Congress and on the bench have used in the last few decades to prevent reasonable regulation. The United States has many more deaths by guns than other western developed countries. The United States has the weakest gun control laws in that group.
Do the math.