The judge upending California’s gun laws: ‘Blessed’ jurist or ‘stone-cold ideologue’?

The judge upending California’s gun laws: ‘Blessed’ jurist or ‘stone-cold ideologue’?

(Nelvin Cepeda / San Diego Union-Tribune) Roger T. Benitez in 2004, when he was a federal magistrate judge in El Centro. In an era of fierce polarization, Judge Roger T. Benitez seems a perfect fit, an object of rage and adoration. His likeness as “St. Benitez” — with robes and a halo, sometimes holding an AR-15 or a box of bullets — is plastered on T-shirts, prayer candles and even gun magazines. For nearly two decades, U.S. District Judge Roger T. Benitez was a low-profile jurist handling routine immigration and drug cases in San Diego federal court. Then, in three consecutive years, the 70-year-old judge made a trio of rulings that have upended California’s gun laws and launched him into the intensifying national debate over guns. In 2019, he blocked a ban on magazines that hold more than 10 bullets. The next year, he knocked down a voter-approved law that required background checks for ammunition purchases. And this summer, he overturned California’s longstanding ban on assault weapons. To many gun control advocates and victims of gun violence, the last decision in particular provoked anger and incredulity . Benitez compared the AR-15 rifle to a Swiss Army knife, describing it as “a perfect combination of home defense weapon and homeland defense equipment.” He released the decision on Gun Violence Awareness Day. A bespectacled man who fled Cuba as a child, Benitez serves on the board of a local law school , holds a prestigious position on the national Judicial Panel […]

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