Since the Supreme Court has given Texas the green light for its new legal approach that all but bans abortions, Gov. Gavin Newsom says, California will use the same theory to curtail guns — letting private citizens sue people who sell assault rifles and parts for untraceable “ghost guns.”
“SCOTUS is letting private citizens in Texas sue to stop abortion?!,” Newsom tweeted Saturday. “If that’s the precedent then we’ll let Californians sue those who put ghost guns and assault weapons on our streets.”
State officials will try to craft a measure that would allow residents to seek damages of at least $10,000, plus legal fees, against anyone who manufactures, distributes or sells an assault weapon or ghost gun kit in California.
“If states can now shield their laws from review by the federal courts that compare assault weapons to Swiss Army knives,” Newsom said in a news release late Saturday, “then California will use that authority to protect people’s lives, where Texas used it to put women in harm’s way.”
In seizing on Texas’s successful approach, Newsom’s plan is likely to attract controversy along the lines of what embroiled lawmakers there after they banned all abortions after a heartbeat is detected, usually around six weeks into a pregnancy. The new law, which is already spurring droves of women to seek abortion access in California and other states, is unique in relying on enabling private citizens to sue abortion providers for the same amount Newsom is proposing in his new gun measure, $10,000.
President Biden criticized that citizen litigation path as the “most pernicious” aspect of the Texas abortion law because, he said, it creates “a sort of vigilante system” by encouraging the public to police the issue.
Newsom’s office billed his gun announcement as a direct response to Friday’s Supreme Court decision that largely allowed the Texas abortion measure to stand.
Jessica Levinson, a Supreme Court expert who teaches constitutional law at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, told The Chronicle that Newsom is hoping again to be a “quarter step ahead of public opinion and one step ahead of where he can go legally,” as he was in his support of same-sex marriage and legalization of marijuana.
“He is proposing to use a mechanism that he and many others have vilified. But I think it’s quite smart, right? I think it’s a big ‘F— you’ to the Supreme Court,” Levinson said. “If you’re going to allow unconstitutional laws — or I should say in this case, constitutionally questionable laws — that are insulated from judicial review, then we’re going to use that to our advantage.”
Newsom gave few details about his plan. Its prospects in the Legislature were not clear.
Assembly Member Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, said Sunday that he has been working with the nonprofit Brady Campaign, which advocates for gun control, on similar legislation that he plans to introduce when the Legislature reconvenes in January.
Ting called it “a very simple issue”: The gun industry “needs to be held liable” for the use of firearms to commit crimes, or gun-related “incidents that result in injury or death.” Almost every other industry in this country is held liable for what their products do,” he said.
Ting said he “fully supports the governor’s statement,” on guns and hopes the Legislature’s Democratic supermajority will get the proposal passed.
State Sen. Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco, said Sunday that it’s too soon to say what lawmakers will do, but noted that the supermajority has passed “very, very strong gun safety measures.” The governor and Legislature agree that “we’ll do whatever we can to drain the gun swamp, to reduce the number of guns in our society, particularly assault weapons,” he said in a phone interview.