Newsom in San Diego to push gun safety bills, including one that lets people sue gun makers

Gov. Gavin Newsom at Del Mar Fairgrounds
California Gov. Gavin Newsom, along with several elected officials, met with news reporters at Del Mar Fairgrounds on Friday, Feb. 18, 2022, where he backed state legislation that would allow for private citizens to enforce the state’s ban on assault weapons.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

One bill would allow private citizens to sue gun makers, patterned after Texas law that allows people to sue abortion providers


Gov. Gavin Newsom was in Del Mar on Friday, Feb. 18, to push a package of gun safety laws, including one that would let private citizens sue gunmakers that violate the state’s ban on illegal assault weapons.

The package of bills Newsom backed includes a proposed ban on marketing certain categories of weapons to children and teens, and a proposal to place further restrictions on ghost guns and their parts.

“Gun safety laws (have) reduced death in this state,” Newsom said. “That’s not even in dispute. What is in dispute is our incapacity in this country to grow up, to wake up — and to reconcile the absurdity and the extremism in this country as it relates to guns.”

The California bill allowing private people to sue over alleged violations of the state’s assault weapons ban is modeled after a controversial new Texas law that lets private citizens sue abortion providers.

Last year, after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to block the Texas law, Newsom said he wanted a bill in California to target gun safety. He reiterated that Friday, Feb. 18.

“If Texas can use a law to ban a woman’s right to choose, and to put her health at risk, we will use that same law to save lives and improve the health and safety of the people of the state of California,” Newsom said.

The bill allowing people to sue gunmakers over the ban on assault weapons is SB 1327, and it was introduced Friday, Feb. 18, by state Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys.

If it becomes law, it would allow private citizens to sue anyone who makes, distributes, transports, imports or sells assault weapons, .50 BMG rifles, ghost guns, or ghost gun kits.

The plaintiff may obtain injunctive relief to stop the spread of the guns, according to a fact sheet from Hertzberg’s office. And similar to the Texas law, Hertzberg’s bill would allow the plaintiff to recover damages — $10,000 per gun.

“In a just world, a woman’s right to choose would be sacrosanct, and California’s people would be protected from ghost guns and assault weapons,” Hertzberg said in a statement Friday, Feb. 18. “Sadly, a misguided Supreme Court decision has turned common sense on its head.”

He said his proposed legislation would “take advantage of the (Supreme) Court’s flawed logic to protect all Californians and save lives.”

Newsom said there is “no principled way the U.S. Supreme Court can not uphold this California law. None. Period. Full stop.”

“It is quite literally modeled after the law they just upheld in Texas,” Newsom said.

The proposal fulfills fears from some gun rights groups, who have opposed the Texas abortion law because they worried liberal states like California would use the same principle on guns.

“If Texas succeeds in its gambit here, New York, California, New Jersey, and others will not be far behind in adopting equally aggressive gambits to not merely chill but to freeze the right to keep and bear arms,” attorney Erik Jaffe wrote in a legal brief on behalf of the Firearms Policy Coalition, a nonprofit group that advocates for gun rights.

The legislation is likely to be challenged. Experts have said that Newsom’s proposal differs from Texas’ law because gun rights are written into the Constitution while abortion access is not.

Sam Paredes, executive director of Gun Owners of California, said that the proposed legislation would also create “ambulance chasers and bounty hunters” looking to “make a quick buck by filing lawsuits.”

“Gov. Newsom and the politicians of his ilk are throwing stuff against the wall to see what sticks,” Paredes said. “They are asking for people to become police officers and understand the very unique intricacies of California’s gun laws. That is crazy.”

Newsom made his pitch for the package of gun safety bills while at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, where the sale of ghost guns at gun shows is prohibited — a law Newsom signed in 2019.

Among the other bills Newsom highlighted Friday, Feb. 18, is one that would bar gunmakers from marketing certain types of weapons to children. Newsom pointed to a photo of a “JR-15,” a smaller and lighter version of the AR-15. It is a real gun, a .22-caliber long rifle the company says will safely help adults introduce children to the shooting sports.

The third bill comes from three legislators, including Assemblymember Christopher Ward, D-San Diego. It creates a path for the state Attorney General to sue gunmakers who don’t make reasonable marketing and distribution efforts to prevent unlawful use of their products.

The fourth bill targets ghost guns, proposing to treat prepackaged gun kits and the lower receiver the same as completed guns — requiring a serial number and background check.

Ghosts guns are do-it-yourself firearms assembled by hand from parts that sometimes come in prepackaged kits. The parts are not classified as guns so they have no serial numbers, making them difficult — if not impossible — for law enforcement to track. As it stands, the parts can be bought legally in most jurisdictions, with no background check required.

The San Diego region has recently led a push for gun safety ordinances, with the city and county both recently enacting ordinances prohibiting the sale of ghost guns.

San Diego County sheriff’s deputies and San Diego police have said they are confiscating ghost guns in soaring numbers — more than doubling in just a year.

Also part of the county’s ghost guns package — set to take effect this month — is a ban on 3-D printing of gun parts, and an order for safe storage of firearms.

San Diego City Attorney Mara Elliott has embraced the use of gun violence restraining orders, a court order allowing police to strip firearms from someone who poses a threat to themselves or others. In 2020, a study by the Violence Prevention Research Program at UC Davis credited her office for driving their increased use in California.

Newsom also criticized San Diego-based U.S. District Court Judge Roger Benitez, calling him “a stone-cold ideologue.” Last year, Benitez overturned California’s long-standing ban on assault weapons, a ruling later blocked by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. In his ruling, Benitez called the ban “a failed experiment.”

In recent years, Benitez had also blocked a ban on large-capacity magazines and a law requiring background checks to buy ammunition.

The Associated Press and the Los Angeles Times contributed to this story.