California eyes citizen lawsuits over illegal guns
Lawmakers advance a California gun control bill to allow citizens to sue manufacturers and distributors over illegal and “ghost” weapons.
As Democratic elected officials rush to toughen gun laws in the wake of Sunday’s mass shooting in Sacramento that left six dead and 12 injured, Republicans are accusing them of refusing to acknowledge the role their own policies have played in rising rates of gun violence.
On Tuesday, a key legislative committee voted 8-1 to advance a bill — sponsored by Gov. Gavin Newsom and Attorney General Rob Bonta — that co-opts the structure of Texas’ abortion ban by giving private citizens the right to sue manufacturers, sellers and distributors of illegal assault weapons, “ghost” guns and certain other firearms and to collect at least $10,000 in civil damages per weapon.
State Sen. Bob Hertzberg, the Van Nuys Democrat who authored the bill, noted “it may not be the perfect solution” — among other things, it would be invalidated if the U.S. Supreme Court were to strike down the Texas law — but said California should “use every tool available to try and reduce this extraordinary and horrible epidemic of gun violence.”
- The bill progressed the same day that Sacramento police arrested Smiley Martin — one of three suspects taken into custody in connection with the mass shooting — on charges including possession of a stolen handgun converted into a fully automatic weapon. Martin, his brother Dandrae Martin, and Daviyonne Dawson were all charged with possessing a firearm despite being prohibited from having one. Dawson was released Tuesday after posting $500,000 bail.
- Also Tuesday, a stunning Sacramento Bee report found that Smiley Martin in February won early release from a 10-year prison sentence for domestic violence and assault with great bodily injury. The ruling from the Board of Parole Hearings — part of the Newsom administration — came despite strong opposition from Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert’s office, which warned the board that “if he is released early, he will continue to break the law.”
- That will likely add fuel to what’s expected to be an already intense attorney general race: Schubert, a Republican-turned-independent, is one of Bonta’s main challengers for the role of California’s top cop. She’s also one of 44 district attorneys suing the Newsom administration over proposed rule changes that she says could result in the early release of thousands of violent offenders.
- Assembly Republican Leader James Gallagher of Yuba City: Smiley Martin “was a violent felon with a long rap sheet who should have been in prison. If he was, this tragedy might have been avoided. If this violence a few blocks from the Capitol doesn’t serve as a wake-up call to the policymakers in this building, I don’t know what will.”
Meanwhile, two other high-profile crime-related bills failed Tuesday to pass key committees.
- Before it could receive a hearing, Democratic Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi of Torrance pulled his bill to toughen aspects of Proposition 47 — a 2014 ballot measure that reduced penalties for certain theft and drug offenses — and establish diversion and job training programs for some offenders. In a statement, Muratsuchi told me “the Assembly Public Safety Committee proposed to gut the bill to make it meaningless.”
- And GOP state Sen. Shannon Grove of Bakersfield’s bill to amend California penal code by defining human trafficking as a serious and violent felony failed on a 2-1 vote to pass out of the Senate Public Safety Committee.
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