Modeled on Texas abortion law, California bill would allow citizens to enforce weapons ban

JULIE WATSON and ADAM BEAM
Associated Press
FILE - In this Thursday, Dec. 3, 2015, file photo, police crime photos of assault rifles and handguns are displayed during a news conference near the site of a mass shooting in San Bernardino, Calif. On Friday, Feb. 18, 2022, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced legislation aimed at letting private citizens file lawsuits to enforce a ban on assault weapons. The bill is modeled after a Texas law that lets private citizens enforce a ban on abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected. (AP Photo/Chris Carlson, File)

SAN DIEGO — A new bill in California would allow private citizens go after gun makers in the same way Texas lets them target abortion providers, though gun advocates immediately promised a court challenge if it becomes law.

Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday backed legislation that would let private citizens enforce the state’s ban on assault weapons. It’s modeled after a Texas law that lets private citizens enforce that state’s ban on abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected.

Newsom said he hopes the proposal forces the U.S. Supreme Court’s hand on the Texas abortion law. He said it will either expose their “hypocrisy” if they should block California’s proposal that affects the gun industry and not the Texas law on abortion, “or it’ll get them to reconsider the absurdity of their previous decision.”

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“There is no principled way the U.S. Supreme Court cannot uphold this California law. None. Period full stop. It is quite literally modeled after the law they just upheld in Texas,” Newsom said.

The Firearms Policy Coalition, an advocacy group, pledged a court challenge should the California bill become law.

FILE - California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks during a news conference in Sacramento, Calif., on Jan. 10, 2022. On Friday, Feb. 18, 2022, California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced legislation aimed at letting private citizens file lawsuits to enforce a ban on assault weapons. The bill is modeled after a Texas law that lets private citizens enforce a ban on abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

The proposed firearm restrictions are “really just modern-day Jim Crow laws designed to suppress the exercise of human rights the tyrants who run California don’t like,” the group said, promising to “litigate wherever needed to protect the rights and property of peaceable gun owners in California.”

The group and Assembly Minority Leader James Gallagher, a Republican, said Newsom is trying to distract from failing policies elsewhere that recently have prompted falling polling numbers.

“California already has the strictest gun laws in the nation, so it’s not clear what Governor Newsom is hoping to accomplish here besides a sad publicity stunt,” Gallagher said in a statement.

Texas and other conservative-led states have tried for years to ban abortions once a heartbeat is detected, at around six weeks of pregnancy, which is sometimes before the person knows they are pregnant. But the states' attempts have been blocked by the courts.

But Texas’ new abortion law is unique in that it bars the government from enforcing the law. The idea is if the government can’t enforce the law, it can’t be sued to block it in court. That hasn’t stopped abortion providers from trying to block the law. But so far, the U.S. Supreme Court’s conservative majority has allowed the abortion law to stay in place pending a legal challenge.

That decision incensed Newsom and his Democratic allies in the state Legislature. California has banned the manufacture and sale of assault weapons for decades. But last year, a federal judge overturned that ban. The law is still in place while the state appeals the decision.

But the decision inspired Newsom and Democrats in the state Legislature to copy Texas’ abortion law, but make it apply to gun makers instead of abortion providers.

“Our message to the United States Supreme Court is as follows: What’s good for the goose is good for the gander,” said Democratic state Sen. Bob Hertzberg, the author of the proposal. “I look forward to rushing a new bill to the governor’s desk to take advantage of that United States Supreme Court guidance.”

The proposal fulfills fears from some gun rights groups, who have opposed the Texas abortion law because they worried liberal states like California would use the same principle on guns.

“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,” attorney Erik Jaffe wrote in a legal brief on behalf of the Firearms Policy Coalition, a nonprofit group that advocates for gun rights.

California's bill has not been filed yet in the state Legislature. But a fact sheet provided by Hertzberg's office said the bill would apply to those who manufacture, distribute, transport, import into California, or sell assault weapons, .50 BMG rifles, ghost guns or ghost gun kits.

Ghost guns are weapons bought online and assembled at home. They don't have serial numbers, making them difficult to trace.

The bill would let people seek a court order to stop the spread of these weapons and recover up to $10,000 in damages for each weapon, plus attorney's fees.

The bill is one of four pieces of legislation targeting the gun industry in California. The other bills would make it illegal to market assault weapons to children, make it easier for people to sue gun manufacturers for liability in shooting incidents and crack down on ghost guns.

The bill by Democratic Assemblymember Rebecca Bauer-Kahan, AB 2571, would limit the type of firearms advertising and marketing that can be geared toward children and youth. She and Newsom said the gun industry is using children’s books, mascots, apparel, and guns decorated to appeal to children, as well as social media, to appeal to youths.

They specifically criticized a company called Wee1 Tactical, which markets the JR-15, patterned after the popular adult AR-15 assault-style semi-automatic rifle.

The company’s website says its goal is to “safely help adults introduce children to the shooting sports." The company’s logo is a skull sucking on a baby pacifier, available on hats, shirts, patches and stickers.

“How the hell did they think that’s OK?” asked Newsom.

The company did not immediately respond to a telephone message and email seeking comment.

“I have no issue with guns or gun owners,” Newsom said. “I have a serious issue with gun violence.”

— Beam and Associated Press Writer Don Thompson reported from Sacramento.