California Gov. Gavin Newsom is going on war against gun manufacturers. Three months after Newsom’s victory in the recall campaign, Newsom is seeking creative ways to control an industry that dumps millions of high-powered weapons on civilians each year, and then walks away with the bodies it left behind. The governor asked last week for state politicians to present him a bill that he could sign. deputizing private citizens to sue gun and ghost gun manufacturers(Producers of guns that can’t be traced, and are not purchased in full with serial numbers), as also gun distributors in the event that their guns are used in a crime.
California already has some of the country’s toughest laws limiting the sale and ownership of war-grade weapons such as the AR-15 rifle, as well as recent legislation limiting the number of rounds of ammunition that a magazine can hold to 10 or belowBut, that legislation is extremely vulnerable for judicial opposition, especially considering the conservative tilt in courts impacted by Trump appointees. This year, there were a lower court found that the state’s ban on assault weapons was unconstitutional, although the ruling was put on hold and was then subsequently blocked by Ninth Circuit judges. It is almost certain that this case will make its way to the pro-Second Amendment U.S. Supreme Court with its three Trump-nominated justices. The state also has strict background check laws for purchasing weapons. However, courts have ruled in certain instances. background checks before people can purchase ammunition, to be also unconstitutional.
Now, in an explicit nod to the opportunities opened up by the Supreme Court’s hands-off approach to Texas’s Senate Bill 8 (S.B. 8) — encouraging private citizens from around the country to sue anyone who aids or abets a person more than six weeks into their pregnancy seeking an abortion — Governor Newsom is taking a similar provocative tack to confront weapons manufacturers. He has urged the Democratic supermajority in California’s legislature to pass legislation empowering private citizens to sue for at least $10,000 anyone “who manufactures, distributes, or sells an assault weapon or ghost gun kit or parts in the State of California.”
S.B. 8 which Texas Gov. This unprecedented law, which Greg Abbott signed into Texas Gov. It seeks to do an end run around constitutional protections guaranteeing a pregnant person the right to an abortion until such time as the fetus becomes viable outside the womb — currently set by court decision at 23 weeks — and replacing that cutoff with a six-week time limit instead. So extreme is Texas’s legislation that it doesn’t even contain carve-outs to allow abortion in the case of rape or incest.
This act’s spine is clearly in violation of all judicial rulings made over the past 50 year at both the lower court and the higher court levels. It should have been obvious that the Supreme Court would uphold it. As a testimony to how far-right and political this court has become it has refused to do so. The legislators who drafted the bill and passed it hoped to neutralize the judiciary’s response by delegating the enforcement strategy from state officials to private individuals. Their rationale was that if state officials aren’t involved in illegally policing abortion — even if their allowing bounty hunters to sue those who aid and abet people securing abortions to all intents and purposes makes them complicit in an unconstitutional action — they couldn’t be sued to stop implementation of the measure. Surprisingly, the majority of justices seemed to agree with this ambiguous line of reasoning.
The Mississippi abortion case could be used to gut the justices in the coming months. Roe v. Wade, one GOP-controlled state after another is likely to model anti-abortion legislation after S.B. 8. We may, as a result, rapidly become a nation of legislatively approved bounty hunters — or, I should say, “become again” Such a nation would be possible since slave-catchers paid to roam this country once had similar financial incentives that were codified in state laws.
But, of course, the buck won’t stop with abortion. It’s becoming stunningly clear that the court, in tying itself into legal pretzels in order to find any and every way to slash abortion rights, has actually greenlit a potentially limitless array of bad legal practices, and given a broad incentive to state legislators to pass bounty hunter-type legislation, modeled on S.B. 8. Any pet issue of the day. Gun rights advocates in Texas have seen the writing on the wall on this, joining with pro-choice advocates in opposing S.B. 8Not out of love of abortion, but out of fear of spin-off legislation from blue states that will target gun industry.
Such legislation — intended to poke the bear, to be legislative attacks rather than scrupulously worded, constitutionally sound policy — will rapidly corrode the role of the courts and undermine whatever capacity they have left to mediate complex societal problems. Privatized enforcement of law with financial incentives for enforcers will be like the privatized tax collection systems of pre-revolutionary FranceThis could eventually undermine the legitimacy of the state. This could empower vigilantes and infringe upon basic human rights.
Governors and legislators know that, at the very least, deputizing private citizens to enforce laws on everything from gun control to pollution emissions will raise constitutional law scholars’ eyebrows. But Texas seems to have done well with abortion. So why not push the envelope on other issues as well? That’s certainly what a number of constitutional law scholars have been arguing in recent weeks, calling on progressive governors to model gun control and climate change policy on the Texas legislation. And that’s exactly what California Gov. Gavin Newsom is asking legislators to do the same.
There is a danger that there will be endless tit for tat legislation between red and blue states, each time expanding the law area open to bounty-hunter enforcement. Chief Justice John Roberts, in his opposition to S.B.’s majority rulings, recognized this risk. 8 is not in the best interests of constitutional integrity.
In Texas, abortion remains theoretically legal; it’s just that the consequences for Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers (not to mention medics, social service workers, taxi drivers who drive people to abortion clinics, and anyone else involved in the process) are so potentially ruinous that they have chosen to stop providing abortions. So, too, in California if the law passes and if the Supreme Court doesn’t step in, in theory these weapons will still be legal, but anyone who manufactures, distributes or sells guns could face potentially devastating lawsuits.
Of course, it’s entirely possible, even likely, that the Supreme Court’s super-conservative majority will do yet another pretzel twist and decide that while it can’t stop bounty hunters in the abortion arena, it can and will stop them if their interpretation of the Second Amendment comes under threat. Roberts seems aware that this would be one of the worst judicial worlds. For it would peel back the court’s veneer of legitimacy – its always laughable claim to impartiality — to show that at the end of the day, the conservative Supreme Court justices are far less concerned with consistency than with propping up, at all costs, political projects such as banning abortion and neutralizing any and every effort at gun control.