9th Circuit stays ruling against California assault weapons ban, pending appeal

Three variations of the AR-15 assault rifle are displayed at the California Department of Justice in Sacramento
Three variations of the AR-15 assault rifle are displayed at the California Department of Justice in Sacramento in 2012.
(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)
Share via

A federal appellate court this weekend paused a lower court decision overturning California’s ban on assault weapons, granting a stay in the matter — and leaving the law intact — while it hears an appeal.

The 2-1 decision by a three-judge panel of the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on Saturday leaned heavily on another decision by the appellate court earlier this month, in which an 11-judge panel paused another ruling overturning the state’s ban on large-capacity ammunition magazines.

The larger panel said it granted that stay because California was likely to win on appeal, having provided strong arguments for why its ban on large-capacity magazines is constitutional despite a recent U.S. Supreme Court ruling reining in gun laws nationwide.


A federal judge Thursday overturned California’s three-decade-old ban on assault weapons, finding it has no equivalent in early American history and is therefore unconstitutional.

Oct. 19, 2023

The smaller panel Saturday cited the larger panel’s decision in the ammunition case and the “similarities” between it and the assault weapons case, but it did not provide an independent analysis of the state’s chances of prevailing in the assault weapons case.

Ruling in favor of the stay were Judge William A. Fletcher, a President Clinton appointee, and Judge Mark J. Bennett, a President Trump appointee.

Judge Consuelo M. Callahan, a President George W. Bush appointee, dissented. Callahan said the smaller panel was not bound by the larger panel’s analysis granting a stay in the ammunition case. She also said she did not believe the state had “met their burden of showing a likelihood of success” in the assault weapons case.

Fletcher, Bennett and Callahan all agreed to expedite the appeal in the assault weapons case, ordering briefs outlining their positions and the legal foundations for them from the state and the challengers in November.

The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals stops a lower court decision overturning California’s ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines from taking effect.

Oct. 11, 2023

Both the decision to overturn the state’s assault weapons ban and the decision to overturn its large-capacity ammunition magazine ban were made since September by U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez of San Diego.

Benitez found that neither of the bans was sufficiently rooted in the nation’s history and tradition, as required by the Supreme Court’s sweeping decision on 2nd Amendment law last year in New York State Rifle & Pistol Assn. Inc. vs. Bruen.


Benitez said guns defined as assault weapons by California — including modern semiautomatic rifles such as the AR-15 — are common household items used for self-defense by millions of law-abiding citizens in the U.S., and the 2nd Amendment rights of those citizens may not be infringed simply because the weapons are also misused by others for violence, including in mass shootings.

In its appeal, the state argued Benitez had misinterpreted the law and the Supreme Court’s guidance on such laws in Bruen.

At least four of the victims of a mass shooting in Maine were deaf, sending shock waves through the community.

Oct. 28, 2023

Opponents of the state’s laws, including the plaintiffs in the ammunition and assault weapons cases, have praised Benitez’s decisions and said they are prepared to fight to uphold them on appeal.

California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta in a statement praised the court’s decision to stay Benitez’s ruling pending the appeal, citing the mass shooting in Maine.

“We must protect our communities from these dangerous weapons,” Bonta said. “We know that these restrictions work to prevent mass casualty events and save lives.”

Bonta stressed that the state’s bans remain in effect.