Golden State residents may soon be able to take gun-control enforcement into their own hands.
California Governor Gavin Newsom (D.) announced on Saturday he will seek new legislation, modeled after Texas’ restrictive abortion ban. The proposal would allow private citizens to sue anyone who manufactures, distributes, or sells assault weapons or “ghost gun” kits and parts.
“I am outraged by yesterday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing Texas’s ban on most abortion services to remain in place, and largely endorsing Texas’s scheme to insulate its law from the fundamental protections of Roe v. Wade,” Newsom said in a statement. “But if states can now shield their laws from review by the federal courts that compare assault weapons to Swiss Army knives, then California will use that authority to protect people’s lives, where Texas used it to put women in harm’s way.”
The announcement comes on the heels of Friday’s Supreme Court decision in which the justices chose not to block the Texas law. However, the Court did allow abortion providers to proceed with their lawsuit challenging its constitutionality in the lower courts.
The law, which prohibits abortions after six weeks and relies on private citizen enforcement through civil suits, was immediately controversial upon its passage. Some predicted that its enforcement mechanism, designed specifically to evade judicial review, would be used in other jurisdictions to target guns. After Newsom’s statement, it appears those predictions may come true.
While no official timeline for the law has been announced, Newsom said he would be directing his staff to work with the state’s legislature and Attorney General Rob Bonta (D.) to craft the terms of the policy.
He suggested that the penalty for those successfully sued under the law would include “statutory damages of at least $10,000 per violation plus costs and attorney’s fees”, just like the Texas law.
“If the most efficient way to keep these devastating weapons off our streets is to add the threat of private lawsuits, we should do just that,” he said.
Gun rights groups responded with outrage at the California Governor’s announcement Saturday night.
The Firearms Policy Coalition (FPC) put out a statement promising to legally challenge any such policy to come out of the state.
“If Gavin Newsom wants to play a game of constitutional chicken, we will prevail,” the group said.
FPC filed an amicus brief in support of abortion rights advocates seeking to overturn Texas’s abortion law earlier this October. The group foresaw the legal tactics used by Texas being wielded against firearms in jurisdictions less friendly to gun rights, such as California.
“FPC is interested in this case because the approach used by Texas to avoid pre-enforcement review of its restriction on abortion and its delegation of enforcement to private litigants could just as easily be used by other States to restrict First and Second Amendment rights or, indeed, virtually any settled or debated constitutional right,” the group said in its brief. “It is hardly speculation to suggest that 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.”