A Sikh man is suing the state of California over its gun laws, arguing they violate his First Amendment rights to practice his religion by barring him from carrying the kind of weapons he says he needs for self-defense.
Gursant Singh Khalsa, a practicing Sikh for 35 years, charges in the lawsuit filed this month that California's laws banning military-style, semiautomatic weapons and high-capacity magazines violate mainstream Sikh doctrine requiring Sikhs "be at all time fully prepared to defend themselves and others against injustice."
"We're required to wear what's called a kirpan" or dagger, he said Thursday. "I feel, as far as my religion goes, it dictates that we should have all weapons of all kinds to defend ourselves. By not being able to carry an assault rifle or weapon that has a high-capacity magazine, I don't feel that I can defend myself or my family."
Mr. Khalsa, who lives in Yuba City about 40 miles north of Sacramento, said he believes such a right should be available to all Americans with the proper training but that it's also specific to the Sikh religion, which has roots deeply tied to self-defense.
"Some splinter groups attempt this by wearing symbolic miniature daggers in their turbans, to comply with this requirement," he argues in the lawsuit, filed in federal court in California. "But mainstream Sikhs believe this requirement is a literal and true moral duty. As Guru Gobind Singh instructed his Sikhs; 'Without uncut hair and weapons do not come before me'."
Gurpatwant Pannun, a lawyer with the New York-based advocacy group Sikhs for Justice, said that carrying a sword is indeed a part of the religion, but wasn't sure that the letter of the religion extends to carrying so-called assault weapons.
"It is an integral part to carry a sword, but whether that [provision] of carrying a sword goes to carrying an assault weapon, I'm not sure," he said. "But carrying a sword is definitely an integral part of the religion."
Mr. Khalsa, in his lawsuit, argues that the "sword" goes beyond the literal object.
"Decrees from the Tenth Sikh Guru state in the most vigorous and clear words that a Sikh's conception of God is the sword of dharma," he argues. "Not only the sword but every weapon became an attributive symbol of God for the Sikhs."
The lawsuit also contains a reference to the attacks of Aug. 6, 2012, when a gunman killed six and injured several others at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisc., a suburb of Milwaukee.
"I feel that if a Sikh had been armed, they could have taken that guy out," Mr. Khalsa said Thursday. "We believe in self-defense, standing up for your rights, and, if necessary, to defend yourself and, if necessary, use lethal force to stop someone."
The lawsuit also says that California's laws infringe on the Second and 14th Amendment rights of Mr. Khalsa and others.
Mr. Khalsa, the suit reads, "fears arrest, criminal prosecution, incarceration, and fine if he were to possess loaded weapons with 11 or more round magazines within his home, within his vehicle on the streets, or within his temple. But his religious beliefs require no less."
Mr. Khalsa has also issued a summons to Gov. Jerry Brown.
Mr. Brown's office did not respond to requests for comment on the lawsuit Thursday.
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