The governor of California signed a gun control law on Friday modeled on a controversial Texas abortion rule, which allows private citizens to sue each other for breaking firearms law and collect financial rewards.
“We’re sick and tired of being on the defence in this movement,” said governor Gavin Newsom on Friday, speaking from Santa Monica College, where five people were killed in 2013 by a gunman with a so-called “ghost gun.”
“It’s time to put them on the defence,” Mr Newsom continued. “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.”
The bill allows private individuals to sue those who illegally sell assault weapons, gun parts, “ghost guns” without serial numbers, or high-power .50-caliber rifles, and collect a $10,000 payout and legal fees if successful.
Late last year, the governor called for the law, SB 1327, after the Supreme Court approved a Texas law deputising private citizens to sue those who provided abortion laws.
“If that’s the precedent then we’ll let Californians sue those who put ghost guns and assault weapons on our streets,” Mr Newsom wrote on Twitter in December after the ruling. “If [Texas] can ban abortion and endanger lives, CA can ban deadly weapons of war and save lives.”
The bill, in addition to being opposed by gun ownership groups, has scrambled the usual constituencies who often back the liberal governor’s agenda.
“The problem with this bill is the same problem as the Texas anti-abortion law it mimics: It creates an end run around the essential function of the courts to ensure that constitutional rights are protected,” the ACLU wrote in a May letter criticising SB 1327, warning the law would “escalate an ‘arms race’” in states attempting exotic legal ways to pursue political priorities on controversial issues.
Newsom allies, however, say the bill is a worthy attempt to raise the price of illegal gun activity in California.
“No one is saying you can’t have a gun,” State Senator Bob Hertzberg, who helped shape the bill, told The New York Times. “We’re just saying there’s no constitutional right to an AR-15, a .50-caliber machine gun, or a ghost gun with the serial number filed off.”
The new measure joins eight other gun laws Mr Newsom has signed in recent days, including those covering safe gun storage, 3D-printed guns, barring gun sales on state property, boosting gun inspections, limiting dealer fees, and adding child and elder abuse to the list of crimes that limit people’s access to guns.
California has some of the strictest gun laws in the country and some of the lowest rates of gun deaths. Californians are about 40 per cent less likely to be killed by someone with a gun, and about 25 per cent less likely to die in a mass shooting compared to national averages.
In addition to regulating public safety, some see the new gun bill as an attempt for Mr Newsom to further his national profile ahead of a rumoured 2024 presidential run.
Mr Newsom, who is running for re-election, has said he has “subzero” interest in the White House, but has made pointed attacks on Republican leaders outside of California in recent days.
This week, a campaign committee put $30,000 worth of full-page ads in Texas newspapers, slamming GOP governor Greg Abbott.
“Our creator endowed us with the right to life. And yet…children lose their right to life every year because of gun violence. In California, we work to save those lives,” the ad reads, a play on what Mr Abbott once said about California in regards to abortion.
“Governor Newsom should focus on all the jobs and businesses that are leaving California and coming to Texas,” an Abbott spokesperson said of the ad.
Earlier this month, he spent even more on a video ad attacking Florida governor Ron DeSantis’s civil rights record
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