California bill would allow citizens to enforce weapons ban

The proposed bill is modelled on new Texas law that allows people to seek penalties against abortion providers.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks during a news conference in Sacramento, California.
California Governor Gavin Newsom announced legislation aimed at letting private citizens file lawsuits to enforce a ban on assault weapons [Rich Pedroncelli/AP Photo]

A new bill in the US state of California would allow private citizens to go after gunmakers with lawsuits in the same way the state of Texas allows people to target abortion providers.

California Governor Gavin Newsom on Friday backed legislation that would let private citizens enforce the state’s ban on assault weapons. The proposed legislation is modelled after a Texas law that lets private citizens enforce a ban on abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected.

“If Texas can use a law to ban a woman’s right to chose and to put her health at risk, we will use that same law to save lives and improve the health and safety of the people in the state of California,” Newsom said during a news conference on Friday.

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

Now, Texas has a new abortion law that is unique in that it bars the government from enforcing the law, while letting private citizens seek enforcement. The novel legal concept is that if the government cannot enforce the law, it cannot be sued to block it in court.

That has not stopped abortion providers from trying to block the law. But so far, the United States 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.

“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 Senator Bob Hertzberg, the author of the proposal in California. “I look forward to rushing a new bill to the governor’s desk to take advantage of that United States Supreme Court guidance.”

Police crime photos of assault rifles and handguns are displayed during a news conference near the site of a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California.
California has banned the manufacture and sale of assault weapons for decades, but a federal judge last year overturned that ban [File: Chris Carlson/AP Photo]

The California proposal fulfils fears from some gun rights groups, who have opposed the Texas abortion law because they are worried liberal states like California would use the same principle to take 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,” lawyer 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, 0.5-calibre machineguns, ghost guns or ghost-gun kits.

Ghost guns are weapons bought online and assembled at home. They do not 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 lawyer’s fees.

Source: AP