Less than a month after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled against restrictions on carrying firearms in public in a substantial victory for Second Amendment advocates, California Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed at least three major gun control measures into law to restrict access to the weapons and create an avenue for private citizens to sue the industry.
On Tuesday, Newsom signed one of the highest-profile bills on a list of more than a dozen he prioritized this year amid a nationwide surge in gun violence. Assembly Bill 1594 establishes a “firearm industry standard of conduct” and allows local governments, the state Department of Justice and gun violence survivors to sue for egregious violations of state sales and marketing regulations.
Assembly Member Phil Ting, D-San Francisco, and other Democratic lawmakers said they crafted the legislation, which was sponsored by Attorney General Rob Bonta, to work within the boundaries of a federal law that shields manufacturers and dealers from certain lawsuits.
“To the victims of gun violence and their families: California stands with you. The gun industry can no longer hide from the devastating harm their products cause,” Newsom, a Democrat, said in a statement. “Our kids, families and communities deserve streets free of gun violence and gun makers must be held accountable for their role in this crisis. Nearly every industry is held liable when people are hurt or killed by their products — guns should be no different.”
The new law will go into effect on July 1, 2023, while others will be implemented immediately due to an urgency clause, which required a two-thirds majority vote in both houses of the Legislature. Two bills Newsom signed June 30 will limit firearm advertising to minors and add restrictions against already highly regulated ghost guns.
Newsom signed the laws in the midst of deep national division over whether more firearms restrictions are needed to stem a crisis of gun violence, including two recent mass shootings in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas that left dozens dead, including 19 children.
Following those tragedies, Newsom and top legislative Democrats pledged swift action on a package of proposals to further strengthen the state’s firearm regulations, already the strongest in the country. Since then, another seven people died in a mass shooting in Highland Park, Ill., during a July 4 parade, the same day five people were shot, one fatally, in downtown Sacramento near the state Capitol.
With public opinion swinging in favor of gun control, Congress passed bipartisan legislation that prevents abusive intimate partners from buying firearms and encourages states to pass so-called red flag laws. President Joe Biden signed it into law on June 25.
Two days before, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a New York law that requires people to prove a “special need for self protection” in order to bring guns outside their homes. The 6-3 ruling creates legal jeopardy for a range of state firearms laws nationwide, and looms over the bills Newsom has signed.
Sam Paredes, executive director of the Gun Owners of California, said many of the bills likely violate the 1st, Second and 14th Amendments.
“None of this stuff, none of the bills that are going to the governor’s desk that he is going to sign pass that [constitutional] test, from our opinion. And I think we will find out in court if our opinion is correct,” Paredes said.
Daniel Reid, western regional director for the National Rifle Association, also raised serious concerns with restrictions on youth advertising, which he said were “clearly unconstitutional on 1st Amendment grounds.” Reid said that these regulations could hamper conservation and hunting efforts, as well as firearm training and educational opportunities for young people.
While gun rights advocates argue that the Supreme Court’s ruling now makes it harder for states to pass new rules, experts say there’s still some legal wiggle room to test constitutional limits.
“It’s unclear where the court is going to draw the line,” said Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of UC Berkeley Law. “I think there’s a strong argument that all of these are constitutional. There’s also going to be an argument that they are unconstitutional. I think it’s important to adopt the laws and then see where the court is going to draw the line.”
Eugene Volokh, a UCLA School of Law professor, said the Supreme Court’s decision limits how expansive laws can be, but that certain restrictions could remain “permissible.”
“Unsurprisingly, legislatures may continue trying to regulate (guns),” Volokh said. They will have to act more cautiously, he added, recognizing that firearms “are now in a zone of considerable constitutional protection.”
Newsom is expected to sign more gun bills this month and in August, after lawmakers return from their summer break and adjourn this year’s legislative session. Among them is Senate Bill 1327, a closely watched proposal to increase legal liability in the industry by authorizing private lawsuits against anyone who imports, distributes, manufactures or sells illegal firearms such as assault weapons, .50 BMG rifles and so-called ghost guns.
Newsom attracted national attention in December when he called for the legislation as a way to test the Supreme Court’s legal logic in declining to block a Texas law that allows private people to sue anyone who aids and abets in an abortion.
California has long required that applicants prove “good cause” to obtain a concealed carry gun permit, but the Supreme Court’s New York decision rendered that requirement unconstitutional, Bonta said soon after the ruling. Even so, Newsom said that he had been working closely with the attorney general and legislative leaders “for months” on Senate Bill 918, which would “update and strengthen our public-carry law and make it consistent with the Supreme Court ruling.”
The bill aims to specify where guns are prohibited in California, including on school grounds and universities, public transportation, bars and public parks. Firearm owners who want to obtain a concealed carry license would also face a more stringent application process and additional storage and training requirements. Lawmakers approved the bill during a key committee hearing last month.
“This is critical legislation to strengthen our existing concealed carry laws and ensure every Californian is safe from gun violence,” said state Sen. Anthony Portantino, a La Cañada Flintridge Democrat and author of SB 918. “We must be diligent in addressing the gun violence epidemic in our country, and concealed carry laws are a key component of this effort.”
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