Newsom launches long-shot push for U.S. constitutional amendment on gun control
Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday called for a U.S. constitutional amendment on gun control that would ban assault weapons and mandate background checks and waiting periods for purchasing firearms, a proposal that has little chance of passing in a nation deeply divided on the issue.
For Newsom’s proposed 28th Amendment to be considered, legislatures in two-thirds of the states must vote in favor of a constitutional convention. Republicans currently control more than half of the nation’s state legislatures, some of which have recently taken action to reduce gun restrictions.
Newsom’s announcement is likely to be politically popular among national Democrats and in California, which has some of the toughest gun control restrictions in the nation. It could further the liberal governor’s efforts to expand his political influence on some of the most pivotal and controversial issues facing the country.
The proposal comes after Newsom in March launched a new federal political action committee, dubbed the Campaign for Democracy, which he said he created to boost Democrats before the 2024 election and push back on Republican leaders who “ban books,” “kidnap migrants” and “stoke racism.”
California has arguably the nation’s strictest gun laws. And we’ve got one of the lowest rates of gun deaths. States with lax gun controls, especially in the South, have some of the highest gun death rates.
Newsom’s proposed amendment on gun restrictions, which he announced Thursday on NBC’s “Today” show, would outlaw the civilian purchase of assault weapons, raise the federal minimum age to purchase a firearm from 18 to 21, mandate universal background checks for gun purchases and institute a “reasonable waiting” period for all gun purchases.
“The 28th Amendment will enshrine in the Constitution common sense gun safety measures that Democrats, Republicans, independents, and gun owners overwhelmingly support — while leaving the 2nd Amendment unchanged and respecting America’s gun-owning tradition,” Newsom said in a statement Thursday morning.
Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the school of law at UC Berkeley, called Newsom’s plan a “terrible idea.”
Under Article V of the U.S. Constitution, an amendment may be proposed by a two-thirds majority vote in both chambers of Congress or by a constitutional convention called for by two-thirds of the state legislatures. None of the 27 amendments to the Constitution have been proposed in a constitutional convention under that process.
“To me, what’s really frightening about it is we’ve never had a constitutional convention under that procedure of Article V,” Chemerinsky said. “No one knows would it be limited to just the 2nd Amendment, or could it do anything? Could they do abortion or rewrite the Constitution? How is it going to be constituted? What are its rules?”
Chemerinsky said calls for constitutional conventions from conservatives have gained traction over the years, including a proposal to mandate a balanced federal budget. He said a balanced budget would devastate social programs, and liberals have argued against it by saying a constitutional convention is unprecedented and dangerous.
By endorsing the process for gun control, Newsom is eroding that argument, he said.
Chemerinksy also made the case that it’s unnecessary. Newsom’s gun control proposals could be carried out by state legislatures or Congress and would not violate the 2nd Amendment, he said. If Congress or lawmakers don’t have the political will to enact the measures through legislation, he said, they won’t do so through a constitutional amendment.
“That’s why I think that Newsom is making a huge mistake in calling for a constitutional convention,” Chemerinsky said. “It’s incredibly unlikely, because I can’t imagine two-thirds of the states calling for this and three-quarters of the states approving changing the 2nd Amendment when you’ve got a majority of states controlled by Republican legislatures, and it’s dangerous to be opening the door to giving credence to the idea of a constitutional convention.”
Newsom’s aides said the governor is calling for a constitutional convention after federal courts struck down several of California’s gun control measures. While rejecting the state’s 30-year ban on assault rifles in 2021, U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez compared the AR-15 semiautomatic rifle to a Swiss Army knife and called it “good for both home and battle.”
Gun control advocates and California officials condemned the ruling, saying it could touch off a broader push to weaken firearm laws.
“If judges are taking radical approaches, the only recourse is to change the actual Constitution,” said Anthony York, a spokesperson for Newsom.
But Chemerinsky pointed out that none of the changes Newsom is proposing have been addressed by the Supreme Court yet.
“So maybe the Supreme Court will say these things violate the 2nd Amendment, but it hasn’t happened yet,” said Chemerinsky, who predicted the high court would at the least continue to allow background checks.
Newsom said he is working with the state’s Democrat-controlled Legislature to make California the first state to call for the constitutional convention. Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood) did not comment Thursday. Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) commended Sen. Aisha Wahab (D-Hayward), the lawmaker who intends to draft California’s resolution to carry out Newsom’s plan.
The governor intends to travel to other states to make the pitch over the summer, his aides said.
Assembly Republican leader James Gallagher accused Newsom of chasing the national spotlight.
“Newsom’s proposal is a poorly thought out, attention-seeking stunt from a governor desperate to distract from his ever-growing record of failure,” Gallagher tweeted.
Newsom is sitting down for an interview about his proposal with conservative talk show host Sean Hannity, which will air Monday.
The governor on Thursday tweeted findings of a Fox News Poll conducted in April that found 87% of voters support requiring criminal background checks, 81% want to raise the minimum age to buy a gun to 21, 77% favor a 30-day waiting period and 61% back banning assault rifles.
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