On Thursday, Gavin Newsom (D.) announced his plan to amend the Constitution to add a slew of gun-control policies. But the call is more political than practical.
The California Governor wants America to adopt a 28th Amendment. It would effectively serve as a partial repeal of the Second Amendment, adding a quartet of new gun restrictions. Those restrictions include a ban on so-called assault weapons, universal background checks, a ban on 18-to-20-year-olds owning guns, and mandatory waiting periods.
The question of whether it has any chance of being ratified isn’t particularly interesting. The answer is no. At least, not for the foreseeable future.
The policies Newsom wants to add to the Constitution are not popular. Some certainly poll better than others; majorities now often oppose assault weapons bans. But none of them have been adopted by even a majority of states.
According to Giffords, 21 states require background checks for all gun sales. 10 states, including California, currently impose a minimum age of 21 for gun purchases. 10 and the District of Columbia have implemented waiting periods on gun sales or assault weapons bans.
It’s impossible to see how Newsom is going to manage to get more than 10 states on board with his new campaign. He’d need to convince 2/3rds of states to back it just to get it considered. He’d need 3/4ths to actually ratify it.
Americans have tended towards a desire for stricter gun laws even through the mass-shooting-inspired ups and downs typical of gun polling. That’s certainly a concerning trend for gun-rights advocates. However, we’d have to travel much further down that road before it gets to the point where 38 states will be on board with all, or even one, of Newsom’s proposed policies.
So, it’s pretty straightforward that this amendment effort has no chance of passing.
But what is particularly interesting is the timing and nature of Newsom’s campaign. This is something that gives him an excuse to do lots of events outside of California. He’s setting up a national campaign infrastructure with this move. And he’s doing it as President Joe Biden is struggling politically.
Not only is Biden’s overall approval rating underwater, his approval on guns is even worse. And about half of Democrats are unhappy with his efforts on gun policy. So, he’s vulnerable from the left on the issue.
Biden will be the oldest contender for the presidency ever in 2024. He’s running ahead of his top potential counterparts. But not that far ahead, a few polls have even put Trump ahead of him in recent weeks, and many Democrats are probably uncomfortable with the state of things.
It’s possible, even likely, that Democrats and many Independents will rally back to him as the general election approaches. Biden may be at his polling nadir right now. But that’s not guaranteed, and there’s a possibility his support could completely collapse.
To this point, Biden hasn’t garnered any serious primary challengers. It’s not terribly likely that Newsom will turn his 28th Amendment campaign into a full-blown out-in-the-open primary campaign. But it could serve as a kind of shadow campaign.
If Biden’s numbers go into free fall and more Democrats start clamoring for a replacement, Newsom will have a convenient argument for stepping right in as a viable replacement. That’s probably why the website for the 28th Amendment is light on details about the actual amendment and looks just like a presidential campaign website. The name, Campaign for Democracy, doesn’t even hint that it’s supposed to be about adding a gun-control amendment to the Constitution.
And, if Biden’s campaign doesn’t fall through, he can just consider the effort a good national building block for a potential 2028 presidential campaign. There isn’t much of a downside for him in this.
So, as an actual amendment effort, Newsom’s campaign is unserious. As a shadow campaign launch, though, it makes political sense.
UPDATE 6-11-2023 9:11 PM EASTERN: This piece has been updated to show 38 states are need for ratification, not 40.