SACRAMENTO — On a Saturday night in December, California Governor Gavin Newsom was so frustrated with a Supreme Court decision that allowed Texas residents to sue abortion providers that he took to social media directly to advocate for legislation that would allow individuals to use his own state’s coat of arms. to enforce laws.
It sounded so tit-for-tat that many Californians wondered if he was just trying to grow out of one of his favorite foils, Texas Governor Greg Abbott. Others doubted he meant it, because it would mean embracing a premium enforcement system that he found legally dubious.
Seven months later, Mr. Not only was Newsom about to sign the bill on Friday, but he also leaned harder than ever in his rhetoric against Republicans. He placed an ad in Florida this month attacking the state’s Republican governor Ron DeSantis, a possible 2024 presidential candidate. He has reprimanded other states for banning abortion and torn the Supreme Court over his recent decisions to impeach Roe v. Wade and give Americans a broad right to arm themselves in public.
While he has repeatedly maintained that he has no intention of going to the White House in 2024, Mr. Newsom’s actions sometimes seem to belie his statements. The Florida ad — a $105,000 spot worth more in free publicity — drew attention in national political circles. So did his visit to Washington this month and his statements this spring that fellow Democrats were over-reacting to Republican moves.
“I think he realizes Democrats are hungry for a hero,” said Kim Nalder, a political science professor at California State University, Sacramento. “He’s building a profile as an alternative on the left to this aggressive policymaking that we’ve seen by Republicans in recent years.”
No piece of legislation better summarizes Mr. Newsom’s fight-fire-with-fire stance than the bill co-opting a Texas anti-abortion tactic to enforce California’s ban on assault and ghost weapons.
It is intended to bury those who deal in prohibited weapons in lawsuits. Awards of at least $10,000 per weapon and legal fees will be presented to plaintiffs who successfully sue anyone who imports, distributes, manufactures or sells assault-style guns, .50 caliber guns, guns without serial numbers, or parts that can be used to firearms. to build that are prohibited in California.
“Nobody says you can’t have a gun,” said state senator Bob Hertzberg, a veteran San Fernando Valley Democrat who was tapped by the governor to draft and guide the complex legislation. “We’re just saying there’s no constitutional right to an AR-15, .50-caliber machine gun, or ghost rifle that has had its serial number removed.”
On Friday, Mr. Newsom ads in three Texas newspapers rebuking Governor Abbott and spending $30,000, according to campaign spokesman Nathan Click. The full-page spread replaces the word “abortion” with “gun violence” in Abbott’s quote about Texas abortion law. It also calls gun enforcement legislation “California’s response to the perverse Texas law that imposed bounties on doctors and patients.”
“Governor Newsom should focus on all the jobs and businesses that are leaving California and coming to Texas,” Renae Eze, Mr. Abbott’s press secretary, said in a statement.
The California law is the culmination of a sweeping firearms restrictions package that Mr. Newsom signed this month. The new laws include new limits on advertising firearms to minors; tightened restrictions on unregistered “ghost weapons”; and a 10-year ban on firearms possession for those convicted of child or elder abuse.
“It’s time for us to stand up,” Mr. newsom said at the end of June after the court rejected a law in New York, similar to California’s, that strictly limited “public carry” licenses. He then said California had anticipated the ruling and was reviewing state law in ways that would compensate “this radicalized and politicized Supreme Court.” He had 16 gun bills on his desk, he said, and he planned to sign them all.
California laws come as mass shootings have increased pressure to take action against gun violence as the death toll has risen from Buffalo to Uvalde, Texas this year. Last month, President Biden signed key gun violence legislation to purge Congress in nearly three decades, expand the background check system for gun buyers under 21, and set aside millions of dollars so states can enact “red flag” laws that defy authorities in to temporarily confiscate weapons from people that are considered dangerous.
But Congressional response, limited by a strong gun lobby and deep partisan polarization, was a long way from the comprehensive solutions that many researchers of gun violence believe are needed. And the conservative 6-3 majority in the Supreme Court has signaled a tendency to not only keep gun rights, but extend them further.
That has meant that states led by Democrats have to find their own solutions. The search went beyond gun violence policies, as the court rulings have violated reproductive rights and compromised LGBTQ protection and other civil liberties. Increasingly, the attack from the left is being led by Mr. Newsom, who has had political capital left since last year when he crushed a Republican-led recall.
Dan Schnur, a former Republican strategist who now teaches political science at the University of Southern California and the University of California, Berkeley, said the governor’s motives were easy to figure out: Mr. Newsom believes his “California way” is a success, and using a national platform to call out Republicans will help rally voters in the many media markets in his own immense state.
Also, Mr. Schnur said: “He is a candidate for the presidency.”
mr. Newsom has said he has “sub-zero interest” in the White House. “But just being seen as a player on the national podium serves him, even if he never runs,” said Mr. schnur. “Mario Cuomo played that game for years.”
California’s gun laws are among the strictest in America, helping the state achieve one of the lowest gun death rates in the country. In 2020, the state’s death rate was about 40 percent lower than the national average, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Public Policy Institute of California found that Californians are about 25 percent less likely to die in mass shootings, compared with residents of other states.
However, California’s gun policy is tense as conservative federal judges, many of whom have been appointed by the Trump administration, take an increasingly tough stance on Second Amendment rights.
The California gun bounty law is expected to face legal challenges that could eventually make it to the Supreme Court. The measure won’t take effect until next year and includes a legal trigger that automatically invalidates it if courts overturn the Texas substantiation. The National Rifle Association and other gun lawyers have argued that current state law already provides remedies for illegal activity by California firearms manufacturers and dealers.
The same groups have argued from the outset that the measure’s premium scheme could — and would — limit the Second Amendment, and the American Civil Liberties Union reiterated their concerns.
“The problem with this bill is the same problem as the Texas anti-abortion law it emulates: It ends the essential function of the courts to ensure constitutional rights are protected,” the ACLU said in a letter to the California Law. The group also accused the legislation “would escalate an ‘arms race'” in creative legal attacks on politically sensitive issues, including contraception, gender-affirming care and voting rights.
A recent legislative update from the NRA said it was looking at “all options available, including lawsuits” on these and several other gun laws.
In the meantime, Mr. Hertzberg said, Democrats will use all available tools.
“I disagree with the Supreme Court,” he said, “but if Texas is going to use this legal framework to harm women, California will use it to save lives by taking illegal weapons off the streets.”