© 2024
Virginia's Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Newsom proposes individuals sue others over banned guns, like the Texas abortion law


California's governor thinks he's found a way to crack down on illegal guns in a way that will avoid being struck down by federal courts. As his model, he's using a Texas law, empowering ordinary people to sue anyone who helps women get an abortion. From member station KQED in San Francisco, Scott Shafer reports.

SCOTT SHAFER, BYLINE: Texas essentially outsources enforcement of its strict anti-abortion law to private individuals who can file lawsuits. The Supreme Court allowed that law to stand for now, while also blocking lawsuits against government officials like the Texas attorney general, who defends state laws in court. Governor Gavin Newsom didn't mince words about the High Court's recent ruling.


GAVIN NEWSOM: I think it was a terrible decision by the United States Supreme Court.

SHAFER: Newsom, a staunch supporter of abortion rights, saw an opportunity for California.


NEWSOM: And the extent this decision's used to put women's lives at risk, we're going to use this decision to save people's lives by addressing the issue of gun violence here in the state of California.

NEWSOM: Newsom is proposing a new law to allow private individuals to sue people who make, sell or distribute weapons banned in the state, including assault weapons and so-called ghost guns.

JESSICA LEVINSON: So he's basically saying, OK, I'll see your opinion in the Texas abortion case, and I'll raise you a new gun control law.

SHAFER: That's Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles.

LEVINSON: I think that it was really just a matter of moments until there was some blue state governor that was going to say, OK, the Supreme Court told us exactly how we can pass laws, try and evade judicial review. So I'm going to go ahead and pass a law that protects X, Y or Z.

SHAFER: Although California has some of the toughest gun laws on the books, the state has had more than its share of mass shootings in recent years.


UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST #1: Our top story is breaking news in Santa Barbara County. A gunman went on a mass shooting near UC Santa Barbara. The violence erupted last night west of the UCSB campus in Isla Vista. There are nine separate crime scenes.

UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST #2: A mass shooting with casualties at a crowded family food festival in Northern California.

UNIDENTIFIED JOURNALIST #3: (Unintelligible) near San Diego was packed when a 19-year-old white male shooter entered with an AR-style rifle and opened fire at 11:23 a.m.

SHAFER: Crimes like those and gun violence in general are often carried out with weapons banned in California. One of the people working to create legislation is California Attorney General Rob Bonta. His legal strategy is based on the anti-abortion law in Texas.

ROB BONTA: Generally, private individuals who could provide a force multiplier to support our common-sense gun safety laws to make more people safe and save more lives.

SHAFER: Even some supporters of the Texas law worried in briefs filed with the Supreme Court that this legal framework could backfire, says Sarah Partial Perry with The Heritage Foundation in Washington.

SARAH PARSHALL PERRY: I think there are conservatives who are concerned that there is going to be sort of a copycat effort.

SHAFER: Perry says the Supreme Court is giving a roadmap to challenge all kinds of rights by blocking off federal courts as a way to challenge state officials who implement the laws.

PARSHALL PERRY: Particularly just favored constitutional rights, whether that's freedom of speech, freedom of religion.

SHAFER: And gun owners' rights. California Assemblyman Mike Gipson, a former cop from Los Angeles, has authored legislation against ghost guns. Now he's eager to carry Governor Newsom's latest gun control idea.

MIKE GIPSON: California is unique. And other states follow California, and we hope that they will follow this lead once it gets on the governor's desk, signed into law.

SHAFER: Of course, it's a long way between an idea and a law, especially a controversial one like this that challenges a right enshrined in the Second Amendment. That said, it seems to be a fight Governor Newsom would relish.

For NPR News, I'm Scott Shafer in San Francisco. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Shafer