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California's ban on assault weapons will remain in effect after judges grant a stay

Police crime photos of assault rifles and handguns are displayed during a news conference near the site of a mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., on Dec. 3, 2015.
Chris Carlson
Police crime photos of assault rifles and handguns are displayed during a news conference near the site of a mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif., on Dec. 3, 2015.

California's assault weapons ban will remain in effect while a court considers whether the 30-year-old law is unconstitutional.

By a 2-1 majority, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit on Saturday grantedan administrative stay while the state appeals a lower-court's order that would strike down the law. The appeals court is expected to hear oral arguments on that case in December.

"We must protect our communities from these dangerous weapons. We know that these restrictions work to prevent mass casualty events and save lives," California Attorney General Rob Bonta said in a statement.

Bonta stressed the importance of tough gun laws in light of the mass shooting in Mainelast week that killed 18 people.

California's law restricts the manufacture, transportation, sale and possession of some firearms the state deems "assault weapons."

On Oct. 19, U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez of San Diego declared that the state's refusal to allow the sales of semiautomatic weapons violates the Second Amendment.

"The State of California posits that its 'assault weapon' ban, the law challenged here, promotes an important public interest of disarming some mass shooters even though it makes criminals of law-abiding residents who insist on acquiring these firearms for self-defense," Benitez wrote in a 79-page opinion.

The judge has attempted to throw out the state's ban before. In 2021, Benitez compared an assault rifle to a Swiss Army knife, describing it as a perfect combination of home defense weapon and homeland defense equipment. That ruling was also appealed by the state attorney general. Later, the case was vacated by the 9th Circuit and sent back to Benitez.

In 1989, California became the first state in the country to ban military-type assault weapons. The measure was in response to a mass shooting on a schoolyard in Stockton, where five children were killed and 28 others, including a teacher, were injured.

In 2021, Bonta toldNPR's Morning Edition that a big misconception of California's law is that AR-15-style rifles are banned outright in California. Bonta said California residents can lawfully own certain types of AR-15s that are less powerful or without assault-rifle features.

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Juliana Kim
Juliana Kim is a weekend reporter for Digital News, where she adds context to the news of the day and brings her enterprise skills to NPR's signature journalism.
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