Federal courthouse in downtown San Diego. Photo by Chris Stone

A San Diego federal judge has denied the state of California’s motion to dismiss a lawsuit challenging its assault weapon ban, which was brought on by a group of San Diego County gun owners and Second Amendment rights proponents.

U.S. District Judge Roger T. Benitez stated in a written ruling Wednesday that the potentially serious criminal penalties one faces for violating California’s assault weapon laws provide sufficient standing for the lawsuit to proceed.

The suit filed last year in San Diego federal court challenges the constitutionality of several California Penal Code sections related to prohibiting or restricting the possession, importation and sale of assault weapons.

The plaintiffs’ complaint alleges the term “assault weapon” is “a politically concocted, pejorative term designed to place more and more constitutionally protected arms inside the Legislature’s mercurial definitions of banned arms — and outside the reach of normal, law-abiding Americans.”

Benitez, who previously sided with firearm proponents in holding California’s ban on large-capacity magazines unconstitutional, wrote in his Wednesday ruling that the potential criminal penalties for violating the state’s assault weapon laws means “any law-abiding citizen may lose his liberty, and (not ironically) his Second Amendment rights, as a result of exercising his constitutional right to keep and bear arms if the arm falls within the complicated legal definition of an `assault weapon.’ If ever the existence of a state statute had a chilling effect on the exercise of a constitutional right, this is it.”

A ruling on the plaintiff’s motion for preliminary injunction is pending.

Becerra’s office said in a statement, “Attorney General Becerra will continue to defend California’s commonsense gun laws in the district court. This case is ongoing.”

Adam Kraut of the Firearms Policy Coalition, one of several plaintiffs in the suit, said, “As the order points out, the criminal penalties associated with a violation of the challenged laws can result in imprisonment and the loss of one’s ability to exercise their fundamental, individual Second Amendment rights. That’s why this case is so important to ensuring that people will no longer face those criminal penalties for responsibly exercising their rights.”

California appealed Benitez’s large-capacity magazine ruling, but the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals threw out the ban last month.

Becerra’s office has since called for a review of the appeals court’s decision.

— City News Service

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