In a polarizing ruling Friday night, a federal judge overturned the 32-year-old California assault weapon ban, ruling it violated Americans’ constitutional right to own firearms for self-protection. In the 94-page decision, Judge Roger Benitez compared an AR-15 rifle to a “Swiss army knife” and falsely claimed that more Californians had died from the Covid-19 vaccine than from mass shootings.

While the decision has sparked outrage in California, it has the potential to have a much broader national impact. If the case is appealed to the Supreme Court, the court’s new conservative majority could use the legal battle to declare the ban on military-style “assault weapons” unconstitutional, undermining the approval by the Supreme Court. administration of a national ban.

Here’s what you need to know about the decision:

What did the judge rule?

California’s long-standing rule prohibits the manufacture, purchase, and possession of firearms that are classified as assault weapons. Judge Benitez, who was appointed a judge by George W Bush in 2003 and has a the story to side with gun lobbyists on issues such as background checks and magazine capacity limits, California found restrictions violate the Second Amendment. Among other arguments, he explains that the state’s goal of preventing mass shootings via the ban puts residents at risk of not having the means to defend themselves against intruders.

Is the decision a surprise?

California judges for the most part shared a consensus on the constitutionality of state gun laws, including restrictions on high capacity magazines and mandatory background checks. But Benitez is an “extreme outlier,” said Ari Freilich, director of state policy at the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. Benitez had previously decided to remove the capacity limit on California’s 10-round magazines and block background checks for ammunition sales.

Freilich also points to a Southern California District Court rule that refers cases to judges with prior experience in dealing with any outstanding issues. In the case of the state’s most contested gun laws, that means gun cases in that particular court tend to end up in the role of Benitez.

“The gun lobby’s strategy is to file identical cases in a lot of courts and hope they find the gold and that a judge side with their radical ideas,” Freilich said. “Most judges dismiss these claims out of court at the early stages. But this extreme outlier, Judge Benitez, continued to jeopardize decades of progress. “

What is this changing right now?

At the moment, not much. The state’s current assault weapons ban will remain in effect until the California Court of Appeals makes a final statewide ruling. The judge has put in place a 30-day reprieve – which suspends all implementation – so that state attorney general Rob Bonta can appeal. There is a contradictory ruling from the state’s central district court which upheld the state’s current restriction on assault weapons, meaning the fate of this policy will likely be decided by a panel of judges from the Ninth court of appeal.

While the Ninth Circuit was once “notoriously liberal” and typically overturned all lower court pro-gun rulings, Donald Trump’s appointment of new judges has made the appeals court “much more balanced,” making the court decision on the assault. less clear gun ban cases, said Adam Winkler, a gun law expert at the University of California, Los Angeles. Whatever the rules of the Ninth Circuit, the case could be appealed to the United States Supreme Court, where several conservative justices have signaled their eagerness to review Second Amendment cases.

What do we know about the effectiveness of the ban?

Although the ongoing, high-profile mass shootings have called into question the effectiveness of California’s strict gun laws, gun violence prevention advocates argue that the state’s restrictions on high capacity and assault weapons can make the difference between a single casualty shootout and a multiple casualty event. .

Nationally, however, handguns are used in the majority of gun murders, with guns being listed as the murder weapon in less than 4% of murders from 2010 to 2014, according to data from the FBI.

“Although bans on military-style guns are very popular in the gun safety movement, these guns are popular guns, they are not used relatively often to commit crimes, and the Most crimes committed with these weapons could and would be easily committed with handguns or other substitutes, ”says Winkler.

Gun equipment in a store in Oceanside, California
Gun owners have claimed that the “cosmetic” adjustments required by California law have done little to change the lethality of the guns. Photograph: Bing Guan / Reuters

Why have gun owners continued to fight the assault gun ban in California?

Gun owners argued that the “cosmetic” adjustments required by California law were boring, but didn’t make much of a difference in the fundamental lethality of guns or the military-style gun market. .

Chuck Rossi, co-founder of Open Source Defense, a Silicon Valley gun rights group, said he spent hundreds of dollars modifying his existing guns to meet requirements of the California Assault Weapons Act.

Many gun manufacturers have already made “California-compliant versions” of their AR-15 style rifles, Rossi said, so anyone who wanted these types of guns in the state could already buy them. .

“If this decision is upheld, it won’t make any appreciable difference. The weapons are already there, ”said Rossi. “These hand twists, like ‘it’s the end of the world,’ ‘these guns are going to flood our streets’ – they’re already there by the millions. It is foolish to think that this is a big change.

What are the national implications of this decision?

While a national ban on assault weapons expired in 2004, seven states and the District of Columbia still have laws regulating the sale and possession of certain military style weapons.

For years, federal courts have upheld that these assault weapon bans are consistent with Second Amendment gun rights. But after Trump appointed three pro-gun judges to the Supreme Court, some legal experts now expect the country’s highest court to start expanding the scope of the Second Amendment and overturning some gun control laws. fire.

“I think it’s possible to imagine five judges on the court right now who would agree with Judge Benitez that the California ban on assault weapons is unconstitutional,” Winkler said.

In a 2011 dispute Written before Trump appointed him to the Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh argued that the District of Columbia’s ban on assault weapons was unconstitutional and that since semi-automatic rifles were “in common use,” they should not be banned, that he would continue to abolish the bans on AR-15s.

Amy Coney Barrett, another person appointed by Trump’s Supreme Court, previously argued that prohibiting all criminals from owning firearms, one of the few basic restrictions on gun ownership in the United States , was unconstitutional.

Gun rights advocates have said they are cautiously optimistic about the outcome of the Supreme Court case. “I think if they accept it, the ban would be deemed unconstitutional,” said Dave Kopel, a pro-gun lawyer who has previously been involved in cases challenging assault weapon bans.