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Newsom fights Texas abortion law with assault rifle ban

Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks to the press during a visit to Ruby Bridges Elementary School in Alameda on March 16, 2021.
Anne Wernikoff
Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks to the press during a visit to Ruby Bridges Elementary School in Alameda on March 16, 2021.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom promised Saturday to give private citizens the power to enforce the state's ban on assault weapons, much like the recent law in Texas that relies on private lawsuits to enforce a ban on most abortions at about six weeks into a pregnancy.

If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

That appears to be Gov. Gavin Newsom’s strategy for counteracting the U.S. Supreme Court’s Friday decision to let stand Texas’ ban on abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy. “I am outraged,” the governor said in a Saturday night statement, announcing that he plans to work with state lawmakers and Attorney General Rob Bonta — whom he appointed to the office — to introduce a bill that would allow private citizens to sue anyone who manufactures, distributes or sells assault weapons or ghost guns.

The idea rips a page out of the playbook Texas used to craft its unusually structured abortion law, which essentially transfers enforcement authority from the state to individual people by allowing them to sue abortion clinics and anyone who “aids or abets” the procedure. That, in turn, limits abortion clinics’ ability to challenge the law in federal court.

  • Newsom: “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.”

The governor’s statement settles scores on multiple fronts. First: a dig at U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez, who declared California’s assault weapon ban unconstitutional in a controversial June ruling that likened an AR-15 rifle to a Swiss Army knife. (Newsom scored another win against Benitez this month, when a federal appeals court overturned his ruling deeming California’s ban on high-capacity magazines illegal.)

Second: a dig at Texas, a state that Newsom regularly excoriates in press conferences for failed COVID-19 policies and high rates of violent crime. In recent weeks, Newsom has sought to frame California as a “sanctuary” for Texas women seeking abortions — perhaps an implicit attempt to reverse the narrative that Californians are fleeing to the Lone Star State in search of lower taxes and more affordable homes.

Third: a way to elevate his national profile after handily defeating a recall attempt, embarking on a bicoastal book tour and offering aid to tornado-slammed Kentucky. State Sen. Brian Dahle, a Bieber Republican, accused Newsom of using the abortion case “as an opportunity to grandstand”; legal experts doubt whether the governor’s proposed legislation would pass muster in court.

Still, Bonta, the state’s top prosecutor, seems to be on board: “As always, we look forward to working with the Governor and the Legislature to use all tools available to us to save lives, lift up our people, and promote our values,” he tweeted Sunday.

However, California hasn’t always succeeded at enforcing the gun laws it already has on the books. An ongoing CalMatters investigation, “Outgunned,” found the state has struggled to recover firearms from people legally banned from owning them due to a criminal conviction, mental health issue or domestic violence restraining order.

CalMatters is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.