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 long-standing 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.