California could give citizens the power to sue for illegal firearms


A person walks past a memorial near the scene of a mass shooting in Sacramento, Calif., Monday, April 4, 2022. Several people were killed and injured in the shooting a day earlier. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)


Stung by a deadly shooting Sunday just blocks from the state Capitol, California lawmakers on Tuesday proposed an innovative new approach to gun control that would allow private citizens to sue those who traffic guns. illegal weapons.

California already has some of the strictest gun rules in the country, but it has yet to find a way to deter those willing to circumvent the laws with stolen or homemade “ghost” weapons and more and more widespread.

His latest attempt, proposed by Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, would allow people to file civil lawsuits against anyone who distributes illegal assault weapons, parts that can be used to make weapons, weapons without a serial number, or rifles. .50 caliber. They would receive at least $10,000 in civil damages for each gun, plus attorneys’ fees.

“California leads the country in passing tough gun laws…and we’re still seeing this unprecedented level of gun violence,” Democratic Sen. Robert Hertzberg, who is carrying the bill, told the Judiciary Committee. of the Senate. “There is still a lot to do and we have to be creative.”

Sunday’s mass shooting at a downtown Sacramento nightclub renewed calls for tougher gun laws from President Joe Biden. He called on Congress to take many of the nationwide measures California already has in place — mandating background checks, banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and banning ghost weapons.

Yet the first weapon recovered after gunmen killed six people and injured 12 in downtown Sacramento on Sunday morning was stolen and converted into an automatic weapon, investigators said Tuesday.

Hertzberg’s bill is modeled after a similar law in Texas allowing citizens to sue those who provide or help provide abortions. And even if it becomes law, it will automatically be struck down if the Texas law is ultimately found to be unconstitutional.

This would not include stolen weapons unless they are otherwise made illegal, for example by registering the serial number. And it wouldn’t stop anyone from owning or using the guns, although they’re illegal under other laws.

“It’s a tit for tat political game, which is the worst reason to pass any kind of bill,” said Chuck Michel, president of the California Rifle and Pistol Association and an attorney who has written a book on the California’s complicated gun laws. . “You’re going to deputize for a bunch of amateurs – non-lawyers, non-cops – to judge a neighbor’s actions, then give them the right to take them to court about it.”

Michael Finley, director of government affairs for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, said the bill would conflict with federal law and includes gun parts that are not in themselves illegal. A California law taking effect July 1 will require that they be sold only through licensed gun dealers.

Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence state policy director Ari Freilich said the bill would “essentially bring greater oversight to the enforcement of certain specific criminal laws in California.”

“It’s not something that’s really been tried before,” Freilich said.

He wouldn’t predict whether it would be effective, but said the proposal presented “potential challenges”. Among them are the encouragement of civil actions to punish crimes and the establishment of a “bounty” to be collected by those who have not been directly harmed.

His organization supports other bills, including one that would make it easier for people to sue gun companies for liability in shootings that cause injury or death. Two other bills also target gun parts and guns without serial numbers, and those made with 3D printers.

Democratic sponsors of several gun bills joined Hertzberg on the steps of the Capitol on Tuesday, advocating for their measures as ways to reduce gun violence. Among them is a bill that would limit the type of firearms advertising and marketing that can be directed at children.

“Collectively, our legislation can work to stop the kind of mass shootings that changed the city over the weekend,” Hertzberg said.

His bill authorized the 11-member Judiciary Committee with six votes and some senators have yet to vote. It must pass two additional commissions before it can be examined by the entire Senate, then by the Assembly.

But several members, including panel chairman Sen. Tom Umberg, a fellow Democrat, questioned whether California should tie itself too closely to the Texas model.

Umberg said he supports both the bill’s attempt to contain illegal guns and its efforts to “highlight the absurdity of Texas law.” But he said he ultimately hoped Hertzberg’s bill would fail because Texas abortion law is deemed unconstitutional.

“Things like this fall under the rubric of ‘monkey see, monkey do,'” Umberg said. “And hopefully we don’t do the ‘monkey do’ thing until the end.”

Legislative analysts have also raised several concerns about the measure.

Much like the Texas law, analysts said Hertzberg’s legislation is written so broadly that it could ensnare, for example, “a taxi driver taking someone to a gun shop.” Hertzberg said that was not the intention and the wording of the bill means an accomplice must have knowledge of what is going on.

He also criticized the Texas law, but said if his bill proves effective, California lawmakers may want to keep it.

“If Texas can use this mechanism to take away a woman’s right to choose and endanger lives, California can use the same mechanism to do anything creative to ban deadly weapons of war and save lives. “, said Hertzberg.

Lynn A. Saleh