More California Nonsense

More California Nonsense


often write about outlandish judicial decisions in this space, but on March 15, 2024, Federal District Court Judge Josephine L. Staton raised the bar for bad thinking about guns. On that date, she granted the State of California’s motion for summary judgment in Rupp v. Bonta, upholding California’s ban on “assault weapons,” or what you and I know as semi-auto rifles in the AR pattern.

In her 64-page opinion, she wrote that “Plaintiffs have not shown that the assault rifles at issue fall within the Second Amendment’s plain text.” She has to find that the 2A doesn’t cover AR-15s because if it does, then the government must shoulder the burden of finding analogous laws to ban ARs, and the state government will fail at that task. 

Judge Staton opines that the 2A doesn’t cover ARs because the rifles are “dangerous-and-unusual weapons.” She says, “Here, there is no genuine dispute as to a material fact on either the dangerous prong or the unusual prong. Therefore, the Court determines that, on the record before it, assault rifles are dangerous and unusual as a matter of law.”

The most recent estimates I’ve seen show a floor of 20 million ARs owned by private citizens, with a ceiling as high as 40 million in circulation. I don’t really know, and I wonder who does really know, but 20 million anythings ain’t unusual. Further, do semi-automatic rifles project “increased danger” beyond what handguns do? So much so that ARs should be regulated like machine guns? A quick look at the annual FBI crime stats would show that knives, bricks, hands, and other “assault thingies” kill many, many more people than ARs. Long guns just aren’t used in that many homicides, and as a subset of long guns, ARs even fewer. But this is interest balancing, and Judge Staton shouldn’t be doing it. 

But on page 22 of the decision, Judge Staton makes an amazing leap of logic. She says that AR-15s are not suitable for self defense. She writes, “Assault rifles permit sustained rapid fire, and the [California-regulated] features further enhance that rapid-fire capability. But rapid fire does not allow a shooter to reevaluate the circumstances and determine whether fatal force is still required. And because lawful self-defense requires imminent harm, it generally occurs “up close”; at that range, it is difficult to use an assault rifle. (Def.’s Ex. 61, Tucker Supp. Expert Report ¶ 22.) Plaintiffs do not dispute this fact, but they argue that the features that permit rapid fire, like a pistol grip or thumbhole stock, are “control and accuracy enhancing,” meaning they improve the weapon’s usefulness for self-defense. (Pls.’ Opp. at 5.) But this argument does not explain how assault rifles map onto the doctrine of lawful self-defense. The guns may be accurate, but if they shoot too quickly, too powerfully, and while the alleged instigator is too far away, then they are not well-suited to self-defense.”

My Daniel Defense AR, quietly resting but ready in a closet, would disagree.

— Todd Woodard


  1. 1) Judge Staton claims, “the features that permit rapid fire, like a pistol grip or thumbhole stock…”
    How does a pistol grip or thumbhole stock, pray tell, “permit rapid fire” more than any other shape of stock? And if it’s the “pistol grip” that “permits rapid fire,” then all handguns would need to be banned, because all handguns (revolvers as well as pistols) have a “pistol grip” too.
    But the judge doesn’t want to admit the fact that handguns can be fired just as rapidly as the rifles she falsely calls “assault rifles” due to their looks. The AR-15 doesn’t fire any faster than a handgun, just one shot per trigger pull, and handguns also have pistol grips.

    Judge Staton claims, “The guns may be accurate, but if they shoot too quickly, too powerfully, and while the alleged instigator is too far away, then they are not well-suited to self-defense.”
    2) The guns don’t “shoot too quickly” — exactly like handguns, they shoot only as quickly as the person who is pulling the trigger, and only one round per trigger pull. And it’s the person holding it who shoots, not the gun that shoots.
    3) “The guns… shoot… while the alleged instigator is too far away.” No, a rifle doesn’t spontaneously pull its own trigger and shoot while someone is far away. It’s the person holding the gun who shoots, and that person is the one who makes the decision at what distance to shoot.
    4) “The guns… shoot… too powerfully… then they are not well-suited to self-defense.”
    I’ve yet to hear of a home defense shooting where the good guy wished his gun was less powerful, so he wouldn’t have been able to stop the home invaders who were intent on killing him and raping his wife and kids. Nobody ever wishes their home defense gun was less powerful. It’s also absurd to call the AR-15 “too powerful” when the AR-15 fires the weakest centerfire caliber, .223, which is far less powerful than a deer-hunting rifle and far less powerful than a shotgun. If Judge Staton thinks the AR-15 is an example of a “powerful” long gun, she obviously knows nothing about rifles or shotguns.


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