After the U.S. Supreme Court declined to block a Texas state law that bans most abortions there, Gov. Gavin Newsom said he’ll push for a new California law that aims to block the manufacture and sale of assault rifles in the state.
“I am outraged by yesterday’s U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing Texas’ ban on most abortion services to remain in place, and largely endorsing Texas’ scheme to insulate its law from the fundamental protections of Roe v. Wade,” Newsom said in a statement Saturday night. “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 California anti-gun law, Newsom said, would be modeled on the Texas law that makes abortions illegal after six weeks of pregnancy and allows private citizens to sue doctors or anyone who helps a woman get an abortion to enforce it.
Newsom said he was directing his staff to work with the state Legislature and Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta on a new law that would allow private citizens to sue manufacturers or distributors of assault weapons.
“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,” Newsom said in the statement.
The governor’s pledge to pass a law restricting assault weapons through private litigation is exactly the kind of legal gambit that constitutional scholars have predicted since the Supreme Court majority declined to block the Texas abortion law, said Khiara M. Bridges, a professor at UC Berkeley School of Law.
“Gov. Newsom is following through on the threat,” Bridges said. “It’s just been academic up until now.”
Indeed, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. warned his fellow justices in a dissenting opinion in the Texas case in September that Texas’ attempt to get around prior prohibitions against abortion bans by allowing private citizens to enforce the law could provide a model for others to create similar laws in other areas.
Assemblyman Marc Levine (D-Greenbrae) said California should be doing everything it can to prevent gun violence and applauded the governor’s intervention.
“If the Supreme Court acknowledges that these types of laws are constitutional, California should exert every power necessary to protect human life,” said Levine, who has authored multiple bills on gun restrictions.
The Texas Heartbeat Act, also known as Senate Bill 8, declares that it is illegal to perform an abortion after about six weeks of a pregnancy but gives the state no direct role in enforcing that ban. Instead, it authorizes private lawsuits in state courts against doctors or clinic owners who violate its provisions.
In theory, the law Newsom proposes would make it easier for Californians to sue gun manufacturers in the same way. But much would depend on likely legal challenges to such a law, should the Legislature pass it.
Times Sacramento bureau chief John Myers contributed to this report.