Emil Guillermo: Assault gun ban overturned in California–an opportunity for new State AG Rob Bonta?

Image for Emil Guillermo: Assault gun ban overturned in California–an opportunity for new State AG Rob Bonta?

Asian Americans as victims brought on the assault weapons ban 32 years ago in California, and now it could take an Asian American attorney general to lead the fight to make sure it stays the law.

That’s my take after Federal Judge Roger Benitez overturned California’s assault weapons ban as unconstitutional on Friday night.

Bet you didn’t know there even was such a ban in California? Yep, and also in states like New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, and Massachusetts, as well as Washington, D.C.

There was even a ban in place for a brief time nationwide.

The pro-gun logic of the judge essentially was that since people in other states could get assault weapons and the ban hasn’t stopped mass shootings, what good was the law? “A 30-year-old failed experiment,” said Judge Benitez, a Bush appointee to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California. That was all it took for Benitez to declare the law a violation of California gun owners’ constitutional rights.

Benitez called the AR-15 assault weapons “fairly ordinary, popular modern rifles.” For example, the law allowed those who owned assault weapons before the ban to register their guns. To date, there are 185, 569 assault weapons in the state even with a ban.

But popularity doesn’t make them benign.

Benitez even compared the AR-15 to a Swiss Army knife as “a perfect combination of home defense weapon and homeland defense equipment.”

That’s such a strange comparison.

I have a small Swiss Army knife that comes with a toothpick and tweezers. I’ve never seen an AR-15 come with either. Does that make the SA knife the superior tool?

Of course, you’re not really looking to pick the spinach off anyone’s teeth, nor pluck a splinter from a finger, with an AR-15. It’s a weapon with one purpose— to kill. And keep killing. Fast.

Not just one, but many. E pluribus Mass Shootings.

That makes the comparison to a Swiss Army anything absurd. But the judge piled it on. He added that knives kill seven times more people in California than rifles do. Maybe. But around the nation, assault rifles are the death per second king.

The AR-15 was used at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub in 2016, when 49 people were killed.

In Las Vegas, an AR-15 was used to kill 58 people at an outdoor concert in 2017.

The Benitez ruling comes after California experienced the nation’s latest high profile mass shooting less than two weeks ago at San Jose’s Valley Transit Authority. Samuel Cassidy, a man who was known to hate his job at the diverse Valley Transit Authority, shot and killed 9 innocent people, including two Asian Americans, before taking his own life. Cassidy used 9 mm semi-automatic handguns made illegal with high capacity magazines.

Cassidy’s drama at San Jose’s VTA had a lot of similar themes to the killings that set off the assault weapons ban in the first place. It was in 1989, in Stockton at the Cleveland Elementary School, when Patrick Purdy killed five children of Southeast Asian refugees and wounded 30 others. Purdy, a 25-year-old unemployed welder was reported to have said he hated Vietnamese immigrants, whom he believed were stealing jobs from native-born Americans. He was found carrying a book from the white supremacy group, Aryan Nations.

That was his book of choice. But his gun of choice was an assault-style weapon, not the AR-15, but a Chinese-made AK-47. On Jan. 17, 1989, Purdy went to the Cleveland School and fired 106 rounds in three minutes, before taking a pistol and shooting himself in the head.

The Stockton shooting was such a shocking crime at the time—innocent Vietnamese and Cambodian children as victims. The state passed the nation’s first assault weapons ban, and it was signed by the Republican governor, George Deukmejian. What a different time. It seems like such a normal reaction. Can’t imagine that sort of thing happening anywhere today. Nowadays, the deaths at Sandy Hook or Parkland aren’t enough to get any law passed, and we fight over gadgets that make regular guns emulate semi-automatic weapons. The 1989 Cleveland School shooting is an historic marker in the gun debate, and now its overturning could be a major test for the next big Asian American political star.

State Attorney General Rob Bonta has called the decision “fundamentally flawed” and has requested that Judge Benitez stay his ruling for 30 days so that the state can appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. (It has been granted.) From there, whatever the decision, the case will likely go to the U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in on the constitutional right to have assault weapons.

I imagine the six conservative justices are dying to inject some steroids into the Second Amendment.

But this could also be the case where Bonta, the pride of the Filipino American community, gets to showcase his mettle on a national scale. After just being appointed, he’s thrust into campaign mode and has at least one strong victims’ rights candidate, vying for his job.

By mounting a strong case appealing Benitez’ ruling, Bonta becomes the face for stronger and saner gun laws, not just in California, but throughout the country. It’ll show courage and a strong sense of ethics in such a polarizing issue. And it could get him noticed by those tiring of the gun lobby having its way at the expense of people forced to live with excessive gun violence. That should draw attention in the state and elsewhere. If he can make an appeal for a responsible adherence to the Second Amendment, it could catapult him onto the national stage, an Asian American politico rising.

Image by AALDEF

Emil Guillermo is an independent journalist/commentator. Updates at Follow Emil on Twitter, and like his Facebook page.

The views expressed in his blog do not necessarily represent AALDEF’s views or policies.

Read Emil's full bio →