California governor signs gun bill modeled after Texas abortion law

Those who make or sell banned weapons could face $10,000 in damages.

July 22, 2022, 2:55 PM

California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a new gun bill on Friday that is explicitly modeled after Texas' unprecedented abortion law. The state is now the first to allow citizens to sue people who make or sell banned weapons, state officials said.

The bill, SB 1327, allows Californians to sue those making, selling, transporting or distributing illegal assault weapons or ghost guns for at least $10,000 in damages. Gun dealers who illegally sell firearms to those under the age of 21 could also be liable for the same damages.

Aluminum lower receivers for AR-15 rifles are displayed for sale at Firearms Unknown, a gun store in Oceanside, California, April 12, 2021.
Bing Guan/Reuters, FILE

The law is modeled after the Texas "heartbeat act," SB 8, which prohibits abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. That law relies on private citizens filing lawsuits to enforce it by placing $10,000 bounties on doctors, providers and others involved in providing abortion care.

Legal experts had predicted that the SB 8 formula could be used beyond abortion. After the U.S. Supreme Court declined to block the abortion law last year, Newsom called on his state's legislature to pass a similar bill around gun safety.

Newsom called the law the "most impactful thing we have done in decades" to advance gun safety during a press briefing Friday, calling ghost guns a "crisis."

The governor signed the bill into law at Santa Monica College, which was the site of a deadly mass shooting in 2013 where six people, including the shooter, were killed. The gunman used an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle he built using legally purchased components -- a ghost gun that now would be subject to a lawsuit under SB 1327.

"If Texas is going to use this legal framework to essentially outlaw abortion and harm women, all with the Supreme Court's blessing, California is going to use it to save lives and take AR-15s off our streets," state Sen. Bob Hertzberg, who authored SB 1327, said in a statement.

Further driving home this point, Newsom ran full-page ads in several Texas newspapers Friday touting California's answer to the Texas bill.

"If [Texas Gov. Greg Abbott] truly wants to protect the right to life, he should follow California's lead," Newsom said on Twitter while sharing the ad, which modifies a quote by Abbott on abortion to pertain to gun violence.

"We're using this to save lives," Newsom said Friday while commenting on the ads. "I can't take what's happening in this country -- I can't take the assault on liberty and freedom, I can't take the rhetoric."

"This is a challenging moment. The Supreme Court has put this responsibility squarely on the doorstep of governors now and legislative leaders and local leaders across this country, and we have to meet this moment," he continued.

The California bill was applauded by gun control advocates, especially for its targeting of ghost guns, though it has been met with some criticism. The American Civil Liberties Union California Action opposed the measure precisely because it is modeled after Texas' abortion law, warning that it "would set a dangerous legal precedent" and legitimize models like SB 8.

"The problem with this bill is the same problem as the Texas anti-abortion law it mimics: it creates an end run around the essential function of the courts to ensure that constitutional rights are protected," ACLU California Action said in a letter to the state legislature in May.

SB 1327 joins other legislation recently signed by Newsom aimed at gun safety, including AB 2571, which prohibits the marketing of firearms to minors, and AB 1594, which allows the state, local governments and Californians to sue gun manufacturers, distributors and dealers that don't follow new state safety and marketing standards.

The latter is modeled after one in New York, which allows state, local governments and individuals harmed by gun violence to sue gun manufacturers or dealers for liability.

State officials and gun violence survivors watch as California Gov. Gavin Newsom signs a gun control law during a news conference held on the campus of Santa Monica College in Santa Monica, Calif., July 22, 2022.
Jae C. Hong/AP

California has the strongest gun safety laws and one of the lowest firearm fatality rates in the country, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

"There's no other state in the United States of America doing more on gun safety than the state of California. Period, full stop," Newsom said during Friday's briefing. "We set the tone and the tenor for the rest of the country, and that's exactly what we're doing here today."