2nd Amendment doesn’t mean California must allow semiautomatic rifles, judge rules

A federal judge has upheld California’s ban on owning, manufacturing or selling semiautomatic rifles and the “bullet buttons” that convert a conventional rifle into a rapid-fire weapon.

Semiautomatic rifles are “incredibly effective killing machines” that are not commonly used or necessary for self-defense, said U.S. District Judge Josephine Staton of Santa Ana. She rejected a challenge to the law by the California Rifle & Pistol Association, an arm of the National Rifle Association.

Her ruling Monday was the first federal court decision on the California law, and cited federal court rulings that have upheld similar laws in other states. It contrasted sharply with decisions in 2017 and 2018 by a federal judge in San Diego, who said the state’s ban on high-capacity gun magazines — those holding more than 10 cartridges — violated the right of law-abiding citizens to defend themselves.

U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez’s rulings took effect briefly this spring, prompting what firearms advocates described as a flurry of purchases at gun shops around the state, but Benitez agreed to restore enforcement of the law after the state appealed. The case is awaiting review by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Semiautomatic rifles, classified as “assault weapons” under state law, have detachable magazines and pistol grips or other features that allow repeated firing without frequently reloading. California has banned the weapons for 20 years, and in 2016 also outlawed “bullet buttons,” which are attached to regular gun magazines and allow them to be quickly removed and replaced.

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