California's gun laws have been the subject of much debate and legal scrutiny. Central to this debate is the state’s definition of an “assault weapon.” This classification is broad, encompassing not just specific models like the AK and Colt AR-15 series, but also any firearm displaying assaultive characteristics. Examples of these features include a conspicuously protruding pistol grip or a detachable magazine on semiautomatic centerfire rifles. Such firearms are largely prohibited in California.
Categorizing Assault Weapons in California
California's approach to defining assault weapons is systematic, breaking them down into three categories:
Category 1: This category traces back to the Roberti-Roos Assault Weapons Control Act of 1989. It includes a list of specific firearms mainly comprising semiautomatic rifles. Prominent among these are all AK series models from various manufacturers, such as those made in China, Norinco, and Poly Technologies. There are also notable inclusions from the UZI, Galil, and Colt AR-15 series. Apart from rifles, certain shotguns and semiautomatic pistols like the UZI, Encom, and RPB Industries Inc. variants also find a place in this category.
Category 2: Category 2 comprises firearms belonging to the AR or AK “series.” These weren't directly banned by the Roberti-Roos Assault Weapons Control Act. When this act's constitutionality was challenged in 2000, the California Supreme Court included these firearms in the assault weapon definition. Notable names in this category include those from American Arms, Arsenal, and Norinco, among others.
Category 3: The third category differentiates firearms based on specific characteristics. For instance, semiautomatic, centerfire rifles with a conspicuously protruding pistol grip, or a thumbhole stock, or a flash suppressor fall under this category. The same applies to semiautomatic pistols with a detachable magazine outside the pistol grip or shotguns with a revolving cylinder. This category emerged from Senate Bill 23 in 1999, leading to these firearms' colloquial reference as “SB 23 assault weapons.”
However, it’s worth noting that certain firearms, while aligning with California's assault weapon definition, are exempted. These exemptions apply primarily to antique firearms and certain pistols used in Olympic target shooting events.
The Legal Tug-of-War Surrounding the Ban
California's assault weapons ban was legally challenged on June 4, 2021, when a federal judge in San Diego, Roger Benitez, ruled that it contravened the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms. This sparked immediate reactions, with California Governor Gavin Newsom criticizing the ruling, emphasizing its potential threat to public safety. Rob Bonta, the state's attorney general, appealed against the decision.
Despite this, on June 21, the Ninth Circuit halted Judge Benitez's ruling, ensuring the ban remained in place while awaiting appeal resolutions. Further twists occurred when a ban on large-capacity magazines was reinstated on November 30, 2021, as an en banc panel for the Ninth Circuit clarified that the ban doesn't infringe on self-defense rights.
This ongoing legal battle, taking place nearly three decades after the original laws' enactment, is influenced by the U.S. Supreme Court's expanding gun rights decisions. As of September 2023, the situation remains fluid, with the case still awaiting a final verdict. For assistance or legal advice on this matter, contact Law Office of Michael L. Fell at (949) 585-9055.