California Bill Takes Page From Texas, Allows Citizens to Sue Gun Companies

California Governor Gavin Newsom on Friday backed a bill that would allow Californians to file civil lawsuits against gunmakers to enforce the state's assault weapons ban.

The proposed legislation is modeled after Texas' controversial abortion law that allows private citizens to sue abortion providers for performing the procedure after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, or around six weeks. California's bill is likely to increase tensions surrounding the divisive topics of abortion and gun control while showing that Democrats are willing to use Republicans' tactics for their own agendas.

The Texas law, which went into effect in September 2021, is unique in that the government is not tasked with enforcing it. Instead, private citizens enforce it through civil lawsuits. Abortions have fallen in the state as a result of the law, according to the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, but this is largely because of people seeking the procedure in other states. While abortion providers have tried to block the Texas law, the U.S. Supreme Court has declined to intervene in an ongoing legal challenge to the measure.

The California bill has not yet been filed in the Legislature, the AP reported. But the office of state Senator Bob Hertzberg, who proposed the bill, provided a fact sheet that described what the measure would entail. The bill would allow private citizens to try to obtain a court order to stop the spread of assault weapons and would make them eligible for up to $10,000 in damages per weapon, as well as attorney fees, according to the AP.

Newsom spoke about the proposed legislation at a Friday news conference.

"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 in the state of California," he said.

The proposed law affects anyone selling assault weapons, .50 BMG rifles, ghost guns or ghost gun kits, which are purchased on the internet and then built at home. It also affects any company creating, distributing or transporting the weapons, Hertzberg's fact sheet added.

"Our message to the United States Supreme Court is as follows: What's good for the goose is good for the gander," Hertzberg told the AP.

The Trace, a nonprofit that investigates gun violence, reported that lawmakers in New York and Illinois are considering similar legislation. Texas state Senator Bryan Hughes, the abortion bill's sponsor, has said the California bill will likely not succeed because the citizen enforcement model would not be "effective against firmly established constitutional rights" like those in the Second Amendment, according to The Texas Tribune. He also argues that abortion rights are not as clearly outlined in the Constitution.

However, UCLA law professor Jon Michaels told the Trace if the majority-conservative Supreme Court shoots the bill down, it could expose potential hypocrisy within the court.

"Newsom is not going to allow this new tool that the court has countenanced to be used asymmetrically—that is, just by red states—to undermine progressive constitutional rights," Michaels said.

Update 02/18/22, 2:20 p.m. ET: This story was updated to add more information and background.

Gavin Newsom, San Francisco
California Governor Gavin Newsom is backing a proposed a bill that would allow Californians to sue gunmakers. Above, Newsom speaks during a bill signing ceremony on February 9 in San Francisco. Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images