Something gun-controlling California and the gun lobby can both agree on

by George Skelton

If the U.S. Supreme Court had heeded a gun lobby warning, California Gov. Gavin Newsom wouldn’t be pushing Texas copycat legislation aimed at the firearms industry.

The Texas vigilante law targeted abortions. And the court seemed to think that was OK. But the court and the Lone Star State inadvertently provided a clear shot for California to fire away at gun manufacturers and dealers.

A gun rights organization had warned the court about that, but it apparently was ignored.

“We’re going to start playing by their rules now,” Newsom asserted at a news conference last week as he unveiled a package of legislation allowing citizens to sue manufacturers and dealers when gun laws are broken. “The Supreme Court of the United States opened a door wide open. …

“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.”

The governor added that the court’s “decision was absurd. It was outrageous. … They’ve set the tone, tenor, the rules.”

Or as state Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, author of the main bill, put it succinctly: “What is good for the goose is good for the gander.”

Pro-gun groups sometimes get it right. Two examples:

The National Rifle Association is right to oppose a bill that would require parents of schoolchildren to disclose whether there’s a gun at home — and where it’s kept. The measure is SB 906 by Sen. Anthony Portantino, D-La Cañada Flintridge.

Look, if I’m a gun owner, I don’t want to publicly broadcast that I’ve got a firearm — or several — at home. And I sure don’t want to disclose where they’re hidden. It makes my place an inviting target for gun thieves. And I don’t trust the security of the school’s filing system.

The gun lobby also hits the bull’s-eye in filing suit against a new San Jose ordinance that requires gun owners to buy liability insurance and pay the city a fee for owning a firearm.

It’s offensive to make innocent gun owners buy insurance just because a minority are wounding or killing people. Most gun owners probably haven’t shot their weapon in years. Many firearms are just heirlooms.

Back to the Texas law: It bans abortions after six weeks of gestation. That’s before many women even realize they’re pregnant. This is in direct violation of the 1973 Supreme Court ruling in Roe vs. Wade that constitutionally protected abortions up to roughly 24 weeks of pregnancy. But it’s generally believed that the conservative court will dump Roe.

Texas didn’t wait. And it creatively protected its new law from federal court cases based on Roe by making it virtually impossible to file such a suit. A plaintiff would need to sue a state official who was enforcing the Texas law. To avoid that, Texas took enforcement away from the state and gave it to private bounty hunters who get paid $10,000 for each violation they uncover.

That naturally has had a chilling effect on abortion providers. They can’t afford a vigilante’s lawsuit.

The Supreme Court refused to block the law, although it provided a narrow path for opponents to potentially challenge it.

The Firearms Policy Coalition, a nonprofit gun rights organization, sharply criticized the Texas bounty law.

“Texas’ novel scheme for infringing upon and chilling the exercise of the right to abortion … if allowed to stand could … just as easily be applied to other constitutional rights … such as the right to keep and bear arms,” coalition attorney Erik S. Jaffe asserted in a Supreme Court brief.

“Indeed,” he added, “a private bounty scheme could easily be modified to target persons who criticize the government, refuse to wear masks or get vaccinated.”

The gun lobby concluded: “It is one thing to disagree with precedents and seek their revision or reversal through judicial, congressional or constitutional avenues. It is another simply to circumvent judicial review by delegating state action to the citizenry at large and then claiming, with a wink and a nod, that no state actors are involved.”

Mark the moment: This is one time that aggressive gun-controlling California and a leading gun rights lobby agree. The Texas law opens the door, and both California and 2ndAmendment protectors wish it had remained closed. But as the gun lobby predicted, California is rushing through that door. It couldn’t resist.

Hertzberg’s bill, SB 1327, would create a bounty scheme to allow vigilantes to sue manufacturers or dealers who peddle firearms that are illegal in California, such as assault weapons or so-called ghost guns. There’d be a $10,000 reward.

In crafting the bill, Hertzberg came across the firearms coalition’s legal brief.

“It was very helpful,” he says. “We knew the Supreme Court had this foursquare before their noses and they made a decision [the bounty law] was OK. It put us on more solid legal ground.”

Sam Paredes, who heads Gun Owners of California, said Hertzberg’s measure would create an industry of “ambulance chasers.” No, Texas did that.

Another bill, AB 1594 by Assemblyman Philip Ting, D-San Francisco, would allow the state and individuals to sue manufacturers and sellers of firearms that harmed people.

Other bills would ban ghost guns and restrict the peddling of small assault weapon look-alikes to children.

Texas may wish it had never concocted its off-target scheme.

Political columnist George Skelton has covered government and politics for nearly 60 years and for The Los Angeles Times since 1974.