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Editorial: Newsom’s Texas-style gun ploy is an emotionally satisfying, and very bad, idea

California Gov. Gavin Newsom.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom in Sacramento in February.
(Associated Press)

Perhaps Gov. Gavin Newsom was only joking on Saturday when he called for a Texas-style law that would prod Californians to sue one another over guns, just as SB 8 incentivizes Texans to seek bounties to block abortions. Maybe he was speaking only out of frustration, or maybe he just wanted to buck up fellow blue-staters who are rightly appalled that the U.S. Supreme Court didn’t strike down the Texas law last week and instead appears headed toward embracing further constraints on women’s control of their bodies while loosening restrictions on the ability to carry and use dangerous weapons.

But he certainly seems serious. Newsom said that his office is working on a bill and that he’d consult with his attorney general appointee, Rob Bonta, about how best to proceed.

In either case, the governor’s statements and actions will no doubt play well with a majority of Californians, six months before they head to the polls for the first round of voting on whether to give Bonta a first full term and Newsom a second.

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The Supreme Court rendered a dismal, lukewarm ruling on the Texas abortion law, saying abortion advocates cannot sue judges and clerks, only state licensing officials

But the idea is just plain wrongheaded.

The Texas Heartbeat Act, and the Supreme Court’s hands-off response, are odious not merely because they restrict rights that have been deemed fundamental for nearly half a century. The right to a safe and legal abortion aside, what Texas and the Supreme Court have done undermines principles on which American democracy and jurisprudence are built, including respect for the Constitution and the authority of the court itself. The Texas law is grounded in the same state’s-rights notions that led Confederate states to reject the Constitution and secede from the union. It embraces a form of “interposition” — the noxious pre-Civil-War philosophy that any state that opposes a constitutional right or a Supreme Court ruling can simply ignore them and go their own way.

This is no path for California to follow.

As rogue politicians, extremist political factions and even state legislatures appear increasingly willing to wreck the nation in pursuit of their own interests and visions, it falls to states populated with cooler heads to keep things together.

Witnessing Texas’ destruction of women’s rights is no justification for following its path, even in the laudable quest to decrease the proliferation of guns and the consequential and shocking increase in murder and other violent crimes.

California’s protections against gun violence are endangered by politicians and judges who appear to believe in the right to commit national suicide.

It’s important to be reminded of just how radical and corrosive the Texas route is.

SB 8 bans performing abortions after the first six weeks of pregnancy. But it doesn’t give the state any power to enforce it, so it limits the ability of anyone to challenge the law on constitutional grounds in court. And remember, the 1973 ruling in Roe vs. Wade is still the law of the land, and still invalidates state laws barring abortion before roughly 24 weeks of pregnancy, which is when the fetus is viable outside the womb.

While shirking enforcement power, Texas grants it directly to private parties, who can collect bounties of $10,000 and up for suing anyone who helps end a pregnancy.

The result is to force abortion providers out of business, and make it practically impossible for women to exercise their right to an abortion in Texas. Without saying that the law is constitutional, the Supreme Court on Friday ruled that no one could sue judges or state officials — except for a few licensing agents — for accommodating the blatantly unconstitutional law.

Even some gun rights advocates bristled at the Texas abortion ploy, knowing that Newsom, or others, would try to use the precedent to restrict guns. In an amicus brief that is in places delightfully sarcastic, the Firearms Policy Coalition warned that others could use the same tactics to block constitutionally protected but still controversial rights to same-sex marriage, interracial marriage, criticizing the government, protesting against police brutality, and on and on. Under Friday’s Supreme Court precedent, the court wouldn’t be able to vindicate thwarted constitutional rights until after, as the coalition put it, “years of litigation in state courts under rules that would make Mickey Mouse and kangaroos blush.”

Newsom in 2018 paved his way toward the governorship with Proposition 63, a gun control ballot measure that included a ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines, and he was understandably irked when a federal judge struck down the ban in June, comparing the AR-15-style rifle to a Swiss Army knife. The U.S. 9th Circuit reversed that late last month, and the question is likely to come before the Supreme Court, so Newsom would understandably like to give the court, and Texas, a taste of their own medicine.

The problem is that the medicine is poisonous to those who give it as well as those who take it.


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