California punched back Friday against two recent landmark U.S. Supreme Court decisions as Gov. Gavin Newsom announced he will sign a controversial, first-in-the-nation gun control law patterned after a Texas anti-abortion law.
Newsom stitched the two hot-button topics together in approving a law allowing people to sue anyone who distributes illegal assault weapons, parts that can be used to build weapons, guns without serial numbers, or .50 caliber rifles. They would be awarded at least $10,000 in civil damages for each weapon, plus attorneys fees.
“While the Supreme Court rolls back reasonable gun safety measures, California continues adding new ways to protect the lives of our kids,” Newsom said in a statement released before he signed the bill. “California will use every tool at its disposal to save lives, especially in the face of an increasingly extreme Supreme Court.”
Lawmakers patterned the bill, at Newsom’s request, after a Texas law allowing citizens to sue anyone who provides or assists in providing an abortion. The U.S. Supreme Court gave preliminary approval to the Texas law, but California’s law will automatically be invalidated if the Texas law is eventually ruled unconstitutional.
“It’s a crappy decision, but the reality is that as long as it is the law let’s make benefit of it by virtue of saving lives, trying to save lives, in California,” the bill’s author, Democratic state Sen. Robert Hertzberg, said in an interview. “It’s all about these two big issues that are facing us. And you can’t have a double standard. You can’t have one standard for guns and another standard for women’s reproductive health. It’s not right.”
Opponents including an unusual combination of gun owners’ advocates and the American Civil Liberties Union have criticized creating what they said amounts to a bounty system to encourage such lawsuits. The ACLU called California’s law “an attack on the constitution” for deliberately trying to sidestep judicial review by empowering enforcement by citizens and not governments, and for undermining due process rights.
But the gun control advocacy organizations Moms Demand Action and affiliated Students Demand Action backed the bill’s potential to combat untraceable “ghost guns.”
Newsom planned to sign the bill while visiting a memorial at Santa Monica College to five victims killed in 2013 by a gunman using such a gun—a homemade assault-style rifle without a serial number.
The new law “will make it easier for victims of ghost gun violence, like me, to help enforce our gun laws,” said Mia Tretta, who was shot in Santa Clarita during a 2019 attack at Saugus High School and is now a volunteer with Students Demand Action.
Aside from the merits of the bill, opponents say it is written to discourage any legal challenges to California’s myriad gun regulations by requiring plaintiffs or lawyers to pay attorneys’ fees if they lose the lawsuit.
That portion of the law “is intended to make it impossible to file a Second Amendment challenge to an unconstitutional gun control law. That is itself unconstitutional,” said Chuck Michel, president of the California Rifle and Pistol Association.
Newsom acted a day after he signed eight other gun laws among numerous measures adding to California’s already strict regulations.
They include measures requiring schools to periodically inform parents about the safe storage of firearms and barring anyone from making more than three guns a year or making any guns with a 3D printer without obtaining a state-issued license.
The governor recently signed another bill patterned after a New York law that empowers anyone who suffered harm to sue gun makers or dealers who fail to follow precautions under a “firearm industry standard of conduct.”
Newsom, a Democrat, has become increasingly combative as he seeks reelection to a final four-year term.
“To members of the United States Supreme Court, to right-wing Republicans all across this country: do you have no common decency?” he asked in a video message after he signed two earlier gun bills into law, one also addressing ghost guns and the other barring marketing firearms to minors.
Yet California finds itself among states fighting rear-guard actions against the Supreme Court’s conservative wing.
California and New York also are scrambling to update their laws regulating the concealed carrying of firearms after the nation’s high court ruled that Americans have a right to carry firearms in public for self-defense.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul called lawmakers there back into a special session to approve changes that take effect Sept. 1, including requiring gun owners to allow an examination of their social media accounts. California legislators expect to act in August on concealed carry restrictions.
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