Legislation & Lobbying

Using Texas’ abortion law playbook, California allows private suits over sales of banned weapons

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Democratic California Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill Friday that allows private parties to sue anyone who imports, makes, sells or distributes weapons banned for sale in California.

The new law is the first in the nation to apply Texas’ citizen lawsuit model to gun sales, report ABC News, the Associated Press, the New York Times and Reuters.

The Texas law authorizes private suits for damages against those who aid an abortion in violation of the state’s ban on abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected. The Texas law, enacted before the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the right to abortion, made it impossible for abortion providers to challenge in advance because there were no state defendants charged with enforcement who could be sued.

During a challenge to the Texas law, the Supreme Court had allowed the suit to proceed against state officials with authority over medical licenses but not other defendants. But the case ended when the Texas Supreme Court ruled that state licensing officials had no authority to enforce the abortion law.

The California law, known as Senate Bill 1327, sets damages at a minimum of $10,000 per illegal firearm. Banned weapons in the state include assault-style rifles, .50-caliber rifles, homemade “ghost guns” and guns without serial numbers. Suits can also be filed over making or selling parts that can be used to make guns that are illegal in the state.

The law is scheduled to take effect next year.

Newsom ran full-page ads in three Texas newspapers that altered a statement by Republican Texas Gov. Greg Abbott about the right to life and abortion. The revised ads strike out part of Abbott’s quote about Texas saving lives lost to abortion to say California is working to save lives lost to gun violence.

California State Sen. Bob Hertzberg is the author of Senate Bill 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,” Hertzberg said in a statement.

Shilpi Agarwal, legal director at the ACLU of Northern California, opposed Senate Bill 1327 because of fears that it will encourage copycat bills that aim to prevent court protection of constitutional rights.

A separate law signed by Newsom authorizes suits against gun-makers and dealers for harm caused by business practices that violate state gun regulations. Private citizens, the state attorney general and local governments can sue for damages or injunction relief.

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