California Bill Would Allow Citizens to Enforce Assault Weapon Ban

“If Texas can use a law to ban a woman’s right to chose and to put her health at risk, we will use that same law to save lives and improve the health and safety of the people in the state of California,” said Gov. Gavin Newsom.

By Kenny Stancil. Published 2-18-2022 by Common Dreams

Governor Gavin Newsom speaking with attendees at the 2019 California Democratic Party State Convention. Photo: Gage Skidmore/flickr/CC

California Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday endorsed legislation that would allow private citizens to enforce the state’s ban on assault weapons.

California’s new bill mimics a Texas law empowering private citizens to enforce the state’s draconian abortion ban by suing anyone who “aids or abets” an abortion after six weeks of pregnancy.

After the right-wing dominated U.S. Supreme Court refused to strike down the Texas GOP’s effort to kill Roe v. Wade, Newsom vowed to work with California lawmakers to craft similar legislation targeting gun manufacturers.

“If Texas can use a law to ban a woman’s right to chose and to put her health at risk, we will use that same law to save lives and improve the health and safety of the people in the state of California,” Newsom said Friday at a press conference. “There is no principled way the U.S. Supreme Court cannot uphold this California law. Full stop. It is quite literally modeled after the law they just upheld.”

The Associated Press reported:

Newsom said he hopes the proposal forces the U.S. Supreme Court’s hand on the Texas abortion law. He said it will either expose their “hypocrisy” if they should block California’s proposal that affects the gun industry and not the Texas law on abortion, “or it’ll get them to reconsider the absurdity of their previous decision.”

While Republican-controlled states’ previous attempts to ban abortions after six weeks—before many individuals know they’re pregnant—have been blocked by courts, “Texas’ new abortion law is unique in that it bars the government from enforcing the law,” AP noted.

“The idea is if the government can’t enforce the law, it can’t be sued to block it in court,” the news outlet continued. “That hasn’t stopped abortion providers from trying to block the law. But so far, the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative majority has allowed the abortion law to stay in place pending a legal challenge.”

The high court’s refusal to invalidate Texas’ law deputizing citizens to crack down on abortion providers motivated Newsom and Democratic lawmakers in California to develop analogous legislation that would permit citizens to go after gunmakers.

“Our message to the United States Supreme Court is as follows: What’s good for the goose is good for the gander,” state Sen. Bob Hertzberg (D-18), the author of the proposal, said Friday. “I look forward to rushing a new bill to the governor’s desk to take advantage of that United States Supreme Court guidance.”

Last year, a federal judge overturned California’s decadeslong ban on the manufacture and sale of assault weapons, but the law remains in effect while the state appeals the decision.

Although it has not yet been filed in the state Legislature, the new bill would let people seek a court order to stop assault weapons, .50 BMG rifles, and ghost guns or ghost gun kits from being produced, distributed, transported, imported into, or sold in California, according to Hertzberg’s office. Plaintiffs could recover up to $10,000 in damages for each weapon, plus attorney’s fees.

AP reported:

The proposal fulfills fears from some gun rights groups, who have opposed the Texas abortion law because they worried liberal states like California would use the same principle on guns.

“If Texas succeeds in its gambit here, New York, California, New Jersey, and others will not be far behind in adopting equally aggressive gambits to not merely chill but to freeze the right to keep and bear arms,” attorney Erik Jaffe wrote in a legal brief on behalf of the Firearms Policy Coalition, a nonprofit group that advocates for gun rights.

Gun advocates, including the Firearms Policy Coalition, immediately promised a court challenge if the California bill becomes law.

The bill is one of four pieces of legislation in California aiming to rein in the gun industry. The other measures would make it illegal to market assault weapons to kids, make it easier for survivors of gun violence to sue manufacturers or dealers for liability in shooting incidents, and curb the spread of ghost guns—firearms that are assembled from parts and lack serial numbers.

“The public has no patience for these purveyors of violence and death,” Newsom told The Sacramento Bee.

This work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0).

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