The fight over abortion reached new levels in Texas this week, but it’s likely to spill over into another hot-button issue: gun control.
That’s because the Texas pro-life bill has struck on a novel strategy. And that strategy saw success this week. It managed to short-circuit efforts in the federal courts to get enforcement blocks put into place before the expansive abortion ban went into effect. Even the Supreme Court decided against intervening at this point.
And that success will breed copycats.
Texas used a new enforcement mechanism to confound its opponents in court. Instead of making it a criminal offense to perform or assist in carrying out an abortion after 6 weeks and relying on government agents to enforce the ban, they made it a civil offense and empowered regular people to sue as an enforcement mechanism.
This complicated things for pro-choice activists fighting the law. It is much easier for a court to temporarily restrain a government agent from enforcing a law while the case makes its way through the legal system. But it’s a lot harder to enjoin millions of civilians from filing civil suits.
Whether you think this is a good way to try and impose new abortion restrictions or you believe it’s necessary to save lives, it’s unlikely this tactic stops with pro-life activists. Many gun-control activists are just as willing to use novel tactics to try and impose new gun restrictions and believe it’s necessary to save lives.
It is very easy to envision legislatures in California or Hawaii passing a similar law restricting the kinds of guns their citizens can own or even how many of them they can have. Instead of making it a criminal offense enforced by the government, they can pass the same kind of civil violation and empower civilians to sue over them. They can even use the same tactic of not making the gun owner liable but, instead, the gun dealer or even gun trainers who advise their students on what guns to buy.
Of course, courts usually catch up with novel approaches like this eventually. It’s likely the Texas abortion law will get blocked at some point. It may be ruled unconstitutional even by the Supreme Court itself.
But the tactic has worked thus far to get the restrictions into effect. And, unless the courts make a big show of striking it down, that early success will be enough for legislatures to try it on other issues. Gun control is probably at the top of that list of issues too.
Whatever you think of this new legal tactic, don’t expect it to stay a unique approach for long.