A Sikh man in Yuba City has filed a federal lawsuit asking that California make an exception to purchasing illegal assault weapons, based on religious grounds.
Gursant Singh Khalsa has been a practicing Sikh for more than 30 years. When he moved to Yuba City from New Mexico recently, he took note of how restrictive California’s gun laws are.
“This is very restrictive of my religious beliefs,” said Khalsa.
There are around 25 million practitioners of the 500-year-old religion that originated in India. Religious doctrine describes members as saint/warriors who revere weapons to defend themselves and their families from persecution as welling as defending others who need help.
The ceremonial daggers called Kirpans are worn by all Sikhs as a symbol of their beliefs, but Khalsa says modern weapons are needed in a society where turban-wearing Sikhs have been mistaken for terrorists and have been killed or injured.
“I feel that modern weapons like the assault rifle or the semi-automatic pistols that have magazines with ten or rounds would be essential in today’s society in order to defend ourselves,” said Khalsa.
Both items are banned under California’s weapons laws.
Khalsa carries a Smith and Wesson revolver for protection. He has a concealed weapons permit that required a training course, which he says is valuable for all gun owners.
Khalsa converted to the religion shortly after graduating from Oregon State University and was a competitive target shooter who competed in the U.S. Olympic trials.
He says California gun laws prevent him from practicing his religion according to its teachings.
“We should have all suitable weapons that enable us to defend ourselves and to defend others,” said Khalsa.
Pacific McGeorge Law School professor John Sims disagrees. He said Sikhs do have access to legal firearms.
“In religious terms the possession of an assault rifle is absolutely essential, that seems to me to be a pretty dubious argument,” said Sims.
Sims says the public interest may outweigh a religious practice that no everyone agrees on.
Khalsa acknowledges that many Sikhs don’t share his beliefs on the issue, but he said he will press ahead with his federal lawsuit against the state.