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Texas massacre leads Newsom, Democrats to promise fast gun control action

Gov. Gavin Newsom stands at a lectern
Gov. Gavin Newsom and state Democrats are pledging fast action on new gun control legislation.
(Nelvin C. Cepeda/Associated Press)

Gov. Gavin Newsom and top legislative Democrats pledged Wednesday to expedite legislation that would require school officials to investigate credible threats of a mass shooting, allow private citizens to sue firearm manufacturers and distributors and enact more than a dozen other policies intended to reduce gun violence in California following the violent attack on a school in Texas.

“We’re going to control the controllable, the things we have control of,” Newsom said during an event at the state Capitol. “California leads this national conversation. When California moves, other states move in the same direction.”

State leaders said the shooting of at least 19 children and two adults at a Uvalde, Texas, elementary school Tuesday prompted them to take a harder look at how California could step up its efforts to address gun violence. The announcement also gives the governor and state leaders a place in the national debate about gun control, amid outcry for stronger restrictions on guns and rising anger over inaction at the federal level.

“California already has strong laws on background checks, limiting purchasing by age and restraining orders to prevent gun violence,” said Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood). “Still, if there is anything more that we can do, we are compelled to do it.”

Newsom’s support for bills currently pending in the Legislature — in this instance, more than a dozen proposals — is rare so early on in the legislative process and could pressure Democrats to pass the legislation. But whether the promise to speed up the vote means any new gun laws will take effect sooner than normal remains to be seen.

Most laws passed this year with a majority vote will take effect on Jan. 1 or later. In order for the gun violence bills to take effect immediately with Newsom’s signature, they must be amended with an urgency clause that requires support from two-thirds of lawmakers in both the Senate and Assembly.

“I’m hopeful that a number of these bills can reach our desk with the urgency provisions attached so they can go into effect immediately,” Newsom said. “Some may be a more traditional process.”

Assembly Republican leader James Gallagher (R-Yuba City) criticized state Democrats for the decision to speed up the review of bills in the wake of this week’s Texas attack.

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“First, can you take a moment to mourn with these families and find out what actually happened?” he posted on Twitter. “We need to address these issues head on. Stop the political posturing and let’s come together to address the underlying causes of this violence.”

In pushing back on the need for more gun restrictions, Gallagher argued that California’s gun laws have not stopped mass shootings from happening in the state.

The shooting in Texas comes after a recent spate of mass killings in California.

A gunman attacked attendees of a lunch banquet at a Taiwanese church in Laguna Woods on May 15, killing one person and wounding five. That shooting came just weeks after a shooting in Sacramento that killed six people and injured a dozen just blocks from the Capitol.

California has dozens of laws on the books that restrict who can buy a gun and when, as well as what kind of background checks are required for purchase. This year’s proposals are intended to empower private citizens, school officials and local governments by holding the gun industry accountable to the victims of mass shootings.

The most sweeping measure, Senate Bill 1327, would allow private citizens to sue gun manufacturers or distributors and anyone who imports or sells assault weapons, .50 BMG rifles and ghost guns. The bill is modeled after a Texas law that bans most abortions after six weeks and authorizes citizen-led civil lawsuits against providers and clinics.

The bill passed the Senate on Tuesday on a 24-10 vote and now heads to the Assembly. It was prompted by Newsom, who urged state lawmakers in December to use the U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal to block the Texas abortion law as the impetus to craft a similar bill in California that would target the gun industry.

Another prominent measure on the list for fast-tracked action is Senate Bill 906, which would require school officials to investigate any threats of a mass shooting and report the potential violence to law enforcement. The investigation could include searching a student’s property, such as a book bag, car or school locker.

State Sen. Anthony Portantino (D-La Cañada Flintridge) said his goal is to add an urgency clause to his bill in order for it to take effect early with Newsom’s signature. Newsom and legislative leaders said they plan to take final action on as many of the bills as possible before they break for a summer recess on July 1.

“With an event like today and the tragedies of the last two weeks, we’re beyond being urgent,” Portantino said. “With pressure from the governor and pressure from my colleagues, we’re going to do everything we can to make these changes in law as quickly as possible.”

Other proposals include a bill to limit firearm advertising to minors, and another that further cracks down on ghost guns in California. State Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta is sponsoring another high-profile bill that would authorize the California Department of Justice, local governments and gun violence survivors to sue gun manufacturers, importers and dealers if they are “irresponsible, reckless, and negligent in the sale or marketing of their products in California,” according to an analysis of the proposal, Assembly Bill 1594.

The Texas shooting prompted Newsom to call out Republicans on Tuesday, echoing frustrations expressed across the nation over GOP senators’ refusal to take up legislation to strengthen gun laws.

“Another shooting,” Newsom tweeted. “And the GOP won’t do a damn thing about it. Who the hell are we if we cannot keep our kids safe. This is preventable. Our inaction is a choice. We need nationwide, comprehensive, commonsense gun safety now.”

The governor often compares efforts in California to prevent gun violence to much looser firearm laws in conservative states. He has repeatedly called out Texas officials, in particular, for glorifying guns, restricting abortion rights, enacting policies that target transgender students and resisting public health measures to stem the spread of COVID-19.

Newsom on Wednesday struck back at Texas Gov. Gregg Abbott, who earlier in the day said gun laws in places like New York, Chicago and California were ineffective and not real solutions to gun violence.

“I wasn’t even going to bring him up but Gov. Abbott just name checked the state of California,” Newsom said. “I would caution him from doing that.”

Newsom pointed to 2020 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that show California experienced a lower rate of firearm mortality and fewer deaths by firearms than Texas. “So many of us that are feeling deep anxiety and fear, I hope you look to the state for leadership, for demonstrable leadership,” Newsom said.

“We are resolved in this fight. We’re not giving up. We’re not giving in to the cynicism. We’re gonna turn this around.”


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