At Santa Monica College on Friday, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a controversial, first-in-the-nation gun control measure patterned after a Texas anti-abortion law, saying the state would use an opportunity created by anti-abortion rulings to target assault weapons.
His action comes one month after conservative Supreme Court justices overturned women’s constitutional right to abortions and undermined gun control laws in states including California.
Newsom stitched the two hot-button topics together in approving a law allowing people to sue anyone who distributes illegal assault weapons, parts that can be used to build weapons, guns without serial numbers or .50 caliber rifles. They would be awarded at least $10,000 in civil damages for each weapon, plus attorneys’ fees.
“We’re sick and tired of being on the defense in this movement. It’s time to put them on the defense,” Newsom said. “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.”
Lawmakers patterned the bill, at Newsom’s request, after a Texas law allowing citizens to sue anyone who provides or assists in providing an abortion. The U.S. Supreme Court gave preliminary approval to the Texas law, but California’s law will automatically be invalidated if the Texas law is eventually ruled unconstitutional.
“There’s no other state the United States of America doing more on gun safety than the state of California. Period. Full stop. We set the tone and tenor for gun safety debate in this country,” he said.
Newsom acknowledged the measure is in uncharted waters and said, while the Supreme Court’s abortion ruling was wrong for endangering the lives of women, it opened a door that California would walk through to protect the lives of residents from gun violence.
“It’s time we step up to this moment. The world is changing radically,” the Governor said. “You see what’s happening with the rights revolution being wiped out in real time, just over the course of the last few years in red states all across this country. We need to act differently. We need to do things differently here in the state of California.”
Newsom credited the work of local lawmakers on the bill including state Senator Bob Hertzberg and Assemblymember Richard Bloom.
“All I want to say is this: states are the incubators of democracy and the incubators of innovation,” said Hertzberg, speaking at the event in Santa Monica on Friday. “It is our highest duty in our government to protect California residents with every power we have. If the United States Supreme Court is seeking to devolve authority to the states, this Governor, Gavin Newsom, and this California legislature will use this exact legal framework to save lives by it by taking illegal guns off the street.”
Newsom’s signed the bill at Santa Monica College, the site of a 2013 mass shooting when John Zawahri killed five people. Two were killed before Zawahri entered campus including his father Samir Zawahri and brother Christopher Zawahri. Margarita Gomez, Carlos Navarro Franco and Marcela Dia Franco were shot on school property.
“In 2013 gun violence shattered our safe haven,” said SMC President Dr. Kathryn Jeffery. “The gunman was taken down by four selfless officers from Santa Monica College Police Department and Santa Monica Police Department. Also to SMC library staff responded using emergency training thereby saving lives. We continue to mourn the loss of groundskeeper Carlos Navarro Franco, his daughter Marcela Franco and our neighbor, Margarita Gomez.”
Bloom said the SMC shooting may have crystalized the issue for local residents but it was just one example the gun violence epidemic.
“It shook this great city and the Santa Monica College community to its core,” he said. “In fact, we’ve grown all too familiar with the environment around gun violence.”
The governor recently signed another bill patterned after a New York law that empowers anyone who suffered harm to sue gun makers or dealers who fail to follow precautions under a “firearm industry standard of conduct.”
He further criticized the high court and conservative Republicans in a video message after he signed two earlier gun bills into law, one also addressing ghost guns and the other barring marketing firearms to minors.
Other recently-signed laws bar gun sales on state property, boost inspections of gun dealers, limit dealer fees, and add child and elder abuse to the list of crimes that block gun ownership.
Yet California finds itself among states fighting rear-guard actions against the Supreme Court’s conservative wing.
Voters in November will be asked to guarantee the right to an abortion in the California State Constitution, while lawmakers in New York and Vermont advanced similar steps.
California and New York also are scrambling to update their laws regulating the concealed carrying of firearms after the nation’s high court ruled that Americans have a right to carry firearms in public for self-defense.
New York Gov. Kathy Hochul called lawmakers there back into a special session to approve changes that take effect Sept. 1, including requiring gun owners to allow an examination of their social media accounts. California legislators expect to act in August on concealed carry restrictions.
Associated Press Writers Don Thompson and Paul Weber contributed to this story.