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AG Bonta, Newsom Announce Appeal To Ruling On State's Assault Weapon Ban

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- State officials announced Thursday that California is appealing a recent decision by a federal judge to overturn a 32-year-old ban on assault weapons.

At a press conference in front of San Francisco General Hospital Thursday morning, California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced that he is appealing the decision by U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez that overturned the ban, calling it "disappointing."

"In many ways the opinion was disturbing and troubling," Bonta said. "But we cannot, and we are not, deterred by this ruling. Our strong common sense gun laws not only curb mass shootings, but gun violence in general."

Judge Benitez, who was appointed by George W. Bush, based his decision on the fact that other states allow residents to own such weapons. He also described assault weapons like AR-15s as being like Swiss Army knives, "good for both home and battle." AR-15s are military grade semi-automatic rifles that are the most commonly used firearm in mass shootings here in the U.S.

Gov. Gavin Newsom, who also spoke at the press conference, renounced Benitez's decision after it was announced, calling it "a direct threat to public safety and the lives of innocent Californians, period." At the press conference, Newsom did not hold back when calling out those who supported the overturning of the ban.

Raw Video: Governor Newsom Blasts Federal Judge Over Assault Weapon Ban Ruling 

"For folks that wax on about public safety and they sit back passively and say nothing about this outrageous decision, shame on them. What frauds they are," Newsom said. "Frauds. They're not serious about violence if they're not serious about gun violence. If they're not serious about gun violence and they will not evaluate the absurdity of a decision like this - a weapon of war, nothing more than a weapon of war that's been regulated for over 32 years - and sit by passively and not say a damn word, or worse yet, applaud this decision, they're not serious about gun violence in our state and in our nation."

READ MORE: California Leaders Vow to Fight After Judge Overturns Assault Weapons Ban

Another guest speaker at the press conference, Dr. Andre Campbell, who works at San Francisco General Hospital, took issue with Benitez's positive description of the AR-15. He noted that he had seen the effects of what the rifle does to a human's body as like "a bomb went off in the tissue of the patient."

"The AR-15 is a weapon of mass destruction," Dr. Campbell said. "There is no comparison."

San Francisco Mayor London Breed also spoke at the conference, noting that government interventions into issues like gun violence save lives. For example, she pointed to how the city locked down during the recent COVID-19 pandemic, saving thousands from getting deathly ill.

"Just imagine what it would be like if we didn't shut down," Breed said. "Walking away and turning a blind eye is not an option. Lives are at stake here."

In a statement released after the press conference, the pro-2nd Amendment nonprofit Firearms Policy Coalition, who filed the lawsuit that lead to Benitez's ruling, stated that it would fight the appeal and even the stay of the judgement. It also condemned Newsom's criticisms of Benitez, calling them "verbal assaults on a long-respected member of the judiciary."

Former Speaker Pro Tem Mike Roos, who wrote the bill that became the Roberti–Roos Assault Weapons Control Act of 1989, spoke to KPIX about the judge's ruling that threatens to overturn it.

"I, along with a handful of people, Diane Feinstein at the federal level, understand how damn difficult it is to get the votes," said Roos, now retired in Southern California. "The NRA is quite an effective lobbyist."

With his legislation, California established its own list of prohibited firearms, mostly rifles.

"Like everyone who knew how difficult it was in the state in 1989, with a Republican governor, and God bless George Deukmejian for signing the bill into law. We're deeply disappointed because it has had such a positive impact," Roos said.

That's not just in California, where it is credited with cutting the state's gun violence. The law also became the model for the national assault weapons ban.

"During the time of the federal assault weapons ban, from 1994 to 2004, high-fatality mass shootings were dramatically reduced by about 70%," explained Robyn Thomas, Executive Director of the Giffords Law Center. "Following the expiration of the ban, after 2004, high-fatality mass shooting deaths went up by almost 300%."

Governor Newsom says the state needs to be more aggressive in pushing for stronger gun safety laws, mentioning several of the loopholes targeted by the attorney general.

"Ghost guns, bullet buttons," Newsom cited. "Issues related to some of the challenges we are having with how it relates to gun restraining orders."

Bonta said his office will ask the federal appeals court to stay Benitez's decision, which the judge had anticipated in his ruling. The ban will stay in effect until the appeals court makes its ruling.

Wilson Walker contributed to this story.


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