California punched back Friday against two recent landmark U.S. Supreme Court decisions as Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a controversial, first-in-the-nation gun control law patterned after a Texas anti-abortion law and urged other states to follow suit.
He acted one month after conservative justices overturned the constitutional right to abortion and undermined gun control laws in states including California.
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.
“We’re sick and tired of being on the defense in this movement," he said.
“It’s time to put them on the defense. You cannot sell, you cannot manufacture, you cannot transfer these illegal weapons of war and mass destruction in the state of California. And if you do, there are 40 million people that can collect $10,000 from you, and attorney fees, for engaging in that illegal activity.”
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.
The Supreme Court’s support for the Texas law was “a terrible decision,” Newsom said. However, “if they're going to use this framework to put women's lives at risk, we're going to use it to save people's lives here in the state of California.”
Newsom also placed $30,000 worth of full-page advertisements in three Texas newspapers Friday criticizing what he said is Gov. Greg Abbott’s hypocrisy on gun safety. The ads parrot a comment by Abbott about children's right to life but substitute “gun violence” where he said “abortion.”
“Governor Newsom should focus on all the jobs and businesses that are leaving California and coming to Texas,” Abbott spokeswoman Renae Eze responded.
It's a similar tactic to the television ad that Newsom, a Democrat running for reelection, recently aired in Florida targeting Gov. Ron DeSantis. Newsom again denied presidential aspirations Friday even while stoking that speculation.
“I can’t take what’s happening in this country," Newsom said in explaining the ads. “Can’t take the assault on liberty and freedom, can’t take the rhetoric, can’t take the ... bullying, the zest for demonization of these governors, not just Abbott, DeSantis, but many of these other governors.”
An unusual combination of gun owner advocates and the American Civil Liberties Union have criticized Newsom for 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.
“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,” Democratic state Sen. Robert Hertzberg, who carried the bill, said in an interview.
Gun control advocacy organizations Moms Demand Action and affiliated Students Demand Action backed the bill's potential to combat untraceable “ghost guns.”
Newsom signed the bill at Santa Monica College, where five victims were killed in 2013 by a gunman using such a gun.
The new law “will make it easier for victims of ghost gun violence like myself to help enforce our laws,” said Mia Tretta, who was shot in Santa Clarita during a 2019 attack at Saugus High School. She is now an incoming senior and a volunteer with Students Demand Action.
Newsom grew emotional as Tretta introduced him. He later said he couldn't help but recall her optimism as he visited her in the hospital after an attack that he said personalized the danger for him as the father of a pre-teen daughter himself.
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 encourage the safe storage of firearms and limit gun making including with a 3D printer.
Others bar gun sales on state property, boost inspections of gun dealers, limit dealer fees, and add child and elder abuse to the list of crimes that block gun ownership.
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.”
He further criticized the high court and conservative Republicans 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.
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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