Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday unveiled his plan to challenge the U.S. Supreme Court and test a Texas law that authorizes citizen-led lawsuits against abortion providers with a California bill that would enable residents to sue gun manufacturers and distributors.
In December, Newsom responded to the Supreme Court’s decision not to block a Texas law that bans most abortions after six weeks and allows private people to sue providers and clinics by saying he would replicate legislation in California to target the gun industry. He directed the Legislature and Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta to craft a policy that would let Californians sue gun manufacturers and distributors of assault weapons and ghost gun kits and parts as a way to test the bounds of the Supreme Court decision.
Since then, lawmakers have proposed at least four bills to undercut the gun lobby in California. One bill would focuses on ghost guns and another would limit certain firearm advertising to minors. Bonta is sponsoring a third proposal to more stringently regulate marketing and distribution by the industry and allow the state Department of Justice and gun violence victims to sue those who skirt California’s strict firearms laws.
The fourth proposal specifically fulfills Newsom’s request and would allow “almost anyone” to privately sue industry members who manufacture, distribute, transport and import assault weapons, .50 BMG rifles and ghost guns, according to a bill fact sheet.
During a press conference to unveil the blueprint, Newsom said California would use the proposed law to take advantage of the “wide open” door he said the Supreme Court opened with the Texas law.
“There is no principled way the U.S. Supreme Court cannot uphold this California law,” Newsom said. “None. Period, full stop. It is quite literally modeled after the law they just upheld in Texas.”
The bill would allow a plaintiff to seek injunctive relief to halt the distribution of weapons and also recover $10,000 in damages for every firearm involved in a complaint. Supporters of the plan said it would reduce gun violence in California while taking advantage of the Supreme Court’s decision.
“Sadly, the United States Supreme Court seemed determined to turn commonsense on its head,” said state Sen. Bob Hertzberg, the Van Nuys Democrat who wrote the proposal. “Our message today to the United States Supreme Court is as follows: What is good for the goose is good for the gander.”
Newsom expressed confidence in the plan, but the legislation is likely to be challenged. Experts have said that Newsom’s proposal differs from Texas’ law because gun rights are written into the Constitution while abortion access is not. Second Amendment advocates have also expressed skepticism that a law like the one Newsom supports would pass constitutional muster, arguing instead that it would punish legal gun owners and not bad actors.
Sam Paredes, executive director of Gun Owners of California, said that the proposed legislation would also create “ambulance chasers and bounty hunters” looking to “make a quick buck by filing lawsuits.”
“Gov. Newsom and the politicians of his ilk are throwing stuff against the wall to see what sticks,” Paredes said. “They are asking for people to become police officers and understand the very unique intricacies of California’s gun laws. That is crazy.”
Paredes also raised concerns that Newsom and legislators didn’t wait for final determination in the legal challenge to the Texas abortion law before they introduced their own version. The Supreme Court didn’t block the law but still allowed abortion rights supporters to more narrowly challenge it.
“This type of wrongheaded legislation is a result of the governor and the legislature being too damn lazy to do the real hard work of trying to figure out why people commit crimes,” he said. “And those who do commit crimes, you charge them and imprison them and take them out of society. In California, we are going the other direction.”