California Governor Gavin Newsom issued a statement Saturday announcing a proposed bill that would allow private citizens to sue to enforce California’s ban on assault weapons.
This move comes months after a federal judge overturned a decades-old California ban on the manufacture and sale of many assault-style weapons in June. The ban remains in place as the state appeals the decision. Newsom’s proposal would allow private citizens to seek at least $10,000 in statutory damages per violation against anyone who manufactures, distributes or sells an assault weapon, ghost gun kit or parts.
“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 a press release.
The bill is modeled on one passed in Texas that bans abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected and allows private citizens to enforce the ban by empowering them to sue abortion clinics and anyone else who “aids and abets” with the procedure. The Texas law has been challenged in courts, but the Supreme Court ruled the law will remain in force as it works its way through the review process.
However, Newsom’s bill drew mixed reactions. Some California gun owners, including Sam Paredes, the executive director of Gun Owners of California, expressed his disapproval.
“If you follow Governor Newsom’s logic of allowing people to personally sue gun manufacturers and dealers, … you would have to accept the logic that we should be able to sue automobile manufacturers because people misuse their cars and get into deadly accidents,” Paredes said.
Paredes also drew attention to what he considers the “dubious legality” of the proposal. Under the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, it is not possible to sue firearms manufacturers because somebody used a gun in the commission of a crime, Paredes said.
But campus School of Law professor Franklin Zimring, who specializes in gun violence and criminal justice, argued these doubts do not hold water.
“This wouldn’t be the first time in legal environments that firearms would be treated differently and with special regards,” Zimring said. “In that regard, it wouldn’t break new ground.”
Zimring noted, however, that the bill would have to proceed “very carefully” and be explained consistently to citizens, gun owners and the regulatory segments of commerce.
ASUC External Affairs Vice President Riya Master expressed her approval for the proposal.
“It’s a great idea, and I’m really glad that the state of California is doing this and that Governor Newsom is actually learning from what happened with the recall,” Master said. “Setting a precedent that Californians can sue people who are selling those weapons, (so) that we can hopefully take steps towards having stricter and more sensible policies around gun control, is always a positive.”
Karen Vo contributed to this report.