A federal appeals court on Wednesday set aside its decision that California’s ban on selling semiautomatic weapons to adults under 21 was unconstitutional, citing a recent Supreme Court ruling that changed how judges must evaluate firearms laws.
In a brief order, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals returned the case to a federal trial judge who had refused to block enforcement of the ban, which was adopted in 2019 after a 19-year-old opened fire with an assault rifle at a synagogue in Poway.
Wednesday’s order is a temporary victory for California Attorney General Rob Bonta, who defended the ban.
The appeals court’s 2-1 majority on May 11 had said the judge erred in upholding an “almost total ban” on semiautomatic rifles for young adults. It did uphold a requirement that young adults obtain hunting licenses before buying “long guns.”
But the new ruling follows the June 23 U.S. Supreme Court decision, in a case from New York, that significantly expanded the right of Americans to carry guns outside the home.
Justice Clarence Thomas wrote for a 6-3 majority that judges should assess whether firearms restrictions were consistent with historical norms, not whether they served important government interests.
In a later court filing, Bonta said this required California and opponents of the rifle ban to “compile the kind of historical record” needed to assess the ban’s constitutionality.
The Firearms Policy Coalition and others challenging the ban opposed vacating the May 11 decision, saying the majority merely decided whether their claims would likely succeed, and that the Supreme Court ruling would not change that analysis.
Bonta’s office and lawyers for the ban’s opponents did not immediately respond to requests for comment.