A new bill in California would allow private citizens to go after gun makers in the same way Texas lets them target abortion providers.
Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday backed legislation that would let private citizens enforce the state’s ban on assault weapons. It’s modeled after a Texas law that lets private citizens enforce that state’s ban on abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected.
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.”
"I'm sick of being on the defense on this stuff," Newsom said.
He's backing a new bill in the state Legislature that would let private citizens enforce the state’s assault weapons ban by filing civil lawsuits. pic.twitter.com/TKz90pfqnE
— KPBS News (@KPBSnews) February 18, 2022
“There is no principled way the U.S. Supreme Court cannot uphold this California law. None. Period full stop. It is quite literally modeled after the law they just upheld in Texas,” Newsom said.
Texas and other conservative-led states have tried for years to ban abortions once a heartbeat is detected, at around six weeks of pregnancy, which is sometimes before the person knows they are pregnant. But the states’ attempts have been blocked by the courts.
But Texas’ new abortion law is unique in that it bars the government from enforcing the law. The idea is if the government can’t enforce the law, it can’t be sued to block it in court. 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.
That decision incensed Newsom and his Democratic allies in the state Legislature. California has banned the manufacture and sale of assault weapons for decades. But last year, a federal judge overturned that ban. The law is still in place while the state appeals the decision.
But the decision inspired Newsom and Democrats in the state Legislature to copy Texas’ abortion law, but make it apply to gun makers instead of abortion providers.
“Our message to the United States Supreme Court is as follows: What’s good for the goose is good for the gander,” said Democratic state Sen. Bob Hertzberg, the author of the proposal. “I look forward to rushing a new bill to the governor’s desk to take advantage of that United States Supreme Court guidance.”
Melissa Murray, a law professor at New York University, said she believed if the conservative court majority could find a way to distinguish between the Texas law and the California proposal, they will.
“I think it will be a real test of this court’s principles about how they regard a law like that that basically does exactly what (the Texas law) did only in the context of assault weapons,” she said.
California law defines assault weapons as semiautomatic rifles or pistols that have a variety of functions. The bill would let people seek a court order to stop the spread of these weapons and recover a minimum of $10,000 in damages for each weapon, plus attorney’s fees.