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Once upon a time the word “extremist” actually meant something.  Osama Bin Laden comes to mind, along with the likes of Timothy McVeigh and Theodore Kaczynski, the “Unabomber.”

The Britannica Dictionary defines an extremist as “someone who has extreme ideas about politics, religion, etc.” as in: “A group of extremists took several hostages.”

Today, however, it seems that everyone is an extremist: “If you don’t agree with me, you are an extremist.”  At least, that would appear to be our governor Gavin Newsom’s definition of the term.  Last Sunday Gov. Newsom posted on “X” (what we used to know as Twitter) the following: “California’s high-capacity magazine ban was just STRUCK DOWN by Judge Benitez, an extremist, right-wing zealot with no regard to human life … Wake up America … Our gun safety laws will continue to be thrown out by NRA-owned federal judges …”

I personally know Judge Roger Benitez, whom our governor apparently considers to be an extremist, and know he’s not “owned” by anyone.  Nominated by President George W. Bush to the Southern District of California Federal Court, he was confirmed by the United States Senate by a 98-1 vote. He is now a senior United States district judge of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California. 

In Gov. Newsom’s view, what makes Judge Benitez an extremist is his 71-page decision filed about a week ago enjoining California from enforcing its law banning possession of firearm magazines which can hold ten or more rounds of ammunition (Duncan v. Rob Bonta, Attorney General of the State of California; Case No. 17-cv-1017-BEN {JLB}).

This case is actually a continuation of a decision Judge Benitez entered back in 2017, making essentially the same ruling.  That decision was affirmed on appeal by a three-judge 9th Circuit Federal Appellate Panel, but was reversed by an 11-judge en banc panel of circuit judges, which ruled 7 to 4 against his ruling.  However, in 2022, the United States Supreme Court granted certiorari, vacated the appellate en banc decision, and remanded the case, ultimately back to Judge Benitez.  The U.S. Supreme Court doesn’t grant writs of certiorari will-nilly, and it requires at least four justices to do so.  In fact, the court normally accepts only 100-150 of the over 7,000 cases it is asked to review each year.  It would seem that if Judge Benitez is indeed an extremist, as our governor suggests, he is in good company.

Meanwhile, after Judge Benitez’s 2017 decision was filed, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in New York State Rifle and Pistol Ass’n, Inc v. Bruen, 142 S. Ct. 2111 (2022), which overturned a New York law requiring anyone who wanted to possess a firearm to “demonstrate a special need for self-protection distinguishable from that of the general community.”  Bruen stated that “the constitutional right to bear arms in public for self-defense is not ‘a second-class right, subject to an entirely different body of rules than the other Bill of Rights guarantees.’”  The court held that New York’s law violated the Fourteenth Amendment because it prevented law-abiding citizens with ordinary self-defense needs from exercising their right to keep and bear arms.

Given the U.S. Supreme Court’s Bruen decision, Judge Benitez’s “extremist” decision was pretty much a required response; but, nevertheless, he wrote a well-researched and compelling 71-page ruling with no less than 230 footnotes.  He concludes the document with: “Removable firearm magazines of all sizes are necessary components of semiautomatic firearms.  Therefore, magazines come within the text of the constitutional declaration that the right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.  Because millions of removable firearm magazines able to hold between 10 and 30 rounds are commonly owned by law-abiding citizens for lawful purposes, including self-defense … the magazines are presumptively within the protection of the Second Amendment.  There is no American history or tradition of regulating firearms based on the number of rounds they can shoot, or of regulating the amount of ammunition that can be kept and carried …

“One government solution to a few mad men with guns is a law that makes into criminals responsible, law-abiding people wanting larger magazines simply to protect themselves.  The history and tradition of the Second Amendment clearly supports state laws against the use or misuse of firearms with unlawful intent, but not the disarmament of the law-abiding citizen.  That kind of a solution is an infringement on the Constitutional right of citizens to keep and bear arms.  The adoption of the Second Amendment was a freedom calculus decided long ago by our first citizens who cherished individual freedom with its risks more than the subservient security of a British ruler or the smothering safety of domestic lawmakers.  The freedom they fought for was worth fighting for then, and that freedom is entitled to be preserved still.”

I’m personally in agreement with Judge Benitez’s position, but also realize this is a divisive issue in our country, and that there are reasonable people with the opposite view.  In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court’s Bruen decision, cited above, was a 6-3 decision and included a compelling dissent written by Justice Stephen Breyer.

What I object to is that our governor, the governor of the most populous state in the nation, a state which if it were a country, would be the fifth largest economy in the world, lowers the level of the dialog by calling a federal judge with whom he disagrees “an extremist, right-wing zealot with no regard to human life.”  It’s a sad commentary on our country’s current leadership.  Who, really, is the “extremist?”

One Comment


    Terrific analysis of a very important issue of the day being corrupted by a Governor with an agenda directed at demonizing any opposition to his point of view.

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