California lawmakers are set to introduce a bill that would allow victims of gun-related violence, local governments, and the state to sue gun makers and sellers for “reckless” behavior.
Media outlets are covering the legislation as a copycat of a controversial Texas law that allows any private citizen to sue an abortion provider even if that citizen did not receive an abortion. California Gov. Gavin Newsom threatened to propose such a law after the U.S. Supreme Court refused to strike down the Texas policy.
In fact, the California law is modeled more closely after another equally bad New York law that allows gun makers to be sued for creating a “public nuisance.” That law has come under fire from the National Shooting Sports Foundation as a blatant attempt to “impose on the firearm industry a ‘death by a thousand cuts,’” said Lawrence Keane of the NSSF.
California’s law would have a similar effect.
Proponents of the law claim that only gun makers and sellers who engage in “reckless” activity could be sued by victims of gun-related violence. Tanya Schardt of Brady told the Sacramento Bee that the bill targets gun dealers who sell to straw purchasers.
“Any kind of gun dealer who’s acting in a way that’s reckless or dangerous that creates an environment where somebody is harmed, those are the types of claims that we believe people should have an opportunity to pursue,” she said.
What constitutes “reckless or dangerous” is anyone’s guess. California has already banned the sale of handguns that do not incorporate microstamping technology. Presumably, gun makers will be sued for “reckless” behavior if they do not manufacture guns with microstamping and other non-existent safety features.
It’s also unclear who counts as a “victim.” The bill’s authors say that an entire community could sue gun makers even if not everyone in that community has been physically injured or had a family member physically injured.
California lawmakers may still introduce a bill more along the lines of the Texas abortion law, which allows any private citizen, not just a “victim,” to sue an abortion provider.
Mike Gipson, a California Democrat, told the Sacramento Bee that he plans to introduce legislation that would allow people to sue for the sale and manufacture of ghost guns and “assault weapons” in California. A spokesperson for Newsom also said the governor still plans to push a bill mirroring the Texas law.
If he does, he’ll have a tough hill to climb. The Texas law operates on the premise that private citizens, not state actors, enforce the law. That means that a court can’t get involved since courts are set up to tell state officials to stop enforcing a law, not regular people.
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But Newsom can’t construct a law like this around gun ownership. As Alan Gottlieb of the Second Amendment Foundation told GunsAmerica, such a law would clearly involve state action.
“A lawsuit’s very existence requires state action; it cannot be filed, maintained, heard, or resolved without state action,” Gottlieb said. “Any argument that the State, through its judicial system and judges, is not involved in the enforcement of lawsuits is contradicted by the plain language of the statute and by the reality of how state courts operate as an arm of the state to enforce the law, especially when the State has intentionally crafted a statute to employ private citizens as its proxy.”
Gottlieb also noted that in 2004, California’s Proposition 64 put in a requirement that for a private party to sue, there must be “injury in fact.” In other words, in order to sue a gun company, a person would have to prove that they had personally been injured by that company. A law modeled after the Texas abortion law could not be legal under Prof. 64.
This most recent legislation, Assembly Bill 1594, is authored by Gipson along with Democrats Phil Ting and Chris Ward.