California Gov. Gavin Newsom recently charged into both the abortion and gun control debates—two of the most contentious issues in the U.S.—with a new proposal. Newsom released a statement on Dec. 11 saying he will work with the state legislature and the attorney general to allow private citizens to sue gun manufacturers and sellers for $10,000 per violation.
Newsom’s efforts to curb gun violence are a direct response to a failed attempt in the U.S. Supreme Court to wrangle Texas’ restrictive abortion law, Senate Bill 8, which bans abortion after six weeks and allows private citizens to sue abortion providers or anyone receiving an abortion after a heartbeat is detected.
“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,” Newsom said in his statement.
The response to Newsom’s statement has varied widely, with both abortion rights activists and gun control advocates weighing in on the issue. Media representatives from Sandy Hook Promise, a gun violence prevention organization, told Prism that suing gun manufacturers doesn’t fit with their policy advocacy. However, Stacey Radnor, the senior communications director for Everytown for Gun Safety, called Newsom a “leader when it comes to gun violence prevention efforts.”
“We deeply appreciate when elected leaders like him think outside of the box when it comes to saving lives,” Radnor says. She adds his approach is an interesting one they’re willing to examine further as more details emerge.
Noah Lumbantobing, the communications and press manager for March For Our Lives, calls it a “creative solution” for people who violate California’s common-sense ban on assault weapons.
“The fact is gun manufacturers and distributors need to be held accountable for what happens when their weapons cause irreparable harm and take lives,” Lumbantobing says. “We believe that Americans have a right to hold gun manufacturers responsible, and we’re in strong favor of that right.”
Dr. Gretchen Ely, University of Tennessee’s College of Social Work professor and Ph.D. program director, has a nuanced outlook on the announcement. She says she was surprised at the audacity of the governor, “but I also couldn’t believe the audacity of the abortion law either.”
Ely, who focuses on reproductive health issues, says she isn’t comfortable with allowing people to report each other for any issue and that public policy and community organizing are the more appropriate mechanisms for change.
Abortion rights activists say the most this announcement will do is signal to lawmakers and judges around the country that the Texas abortion ban could mark the beginning of a form of vigilantism-type laws. There’s hope this will mean the abortion bill will ultimately fail, and abortion access won’t be as restricted. However, a lot more information is needed for Newsom’s gun control proposal to become a reality—especially when gun rights proponents refer to this as a Second Amendment issue.
Ely says she’s not sure if Newsom’s new attempt to reduce gun violence will succeed, but she also didn’t believe the Texas law would stay in effect for this long. Lumbantobing says it remains to be seen if a piece of legislation like this could actually work, but that it’s an interesting enforcement measure to keep military-style weapons out of communities.
“Several states around the country have similar, life-saving legislation that keeps assault weapons out of our communities, so it’s certainly possible. What we would caution is that laws like this should really be targeted at manufacturers and distributors,” Lumbantobing says. “Holding them accountable to the laws that are already on the books gives those laws teeth, and keeps us safe from gun violence.”
Lumbantobing added the country’s Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act (PLCAA) protects manufacturers and dealers from being held liable when crimes are committed with their weapons, immunity that isn’t granted to basically any other industry.
Newsom recently proposed a multi-pronged crime prevention plan after a string of smash-and-grab robberies made headlines. Entitled the Real Public Safety Plan, the proposed changes include allowing private citizens to sue anyone who manufactures, distributes, or sells unlawful assault weapons, as well as “ghost guns,” untraceable guns created from parts generally sold online. The plan also includes a statewide gun buyback program among other crime prevention initiatives.