Just after Texas shooting, California Senate passes Texas-style bill targeting assault weapons, ghost guns

Shortly after the nation’s latest mass shooting, which killed at least 18 children at an elementary school in Texas, the California Senate passed a bill Tuesday to allow private citizens to file suit for at least $10,000 — a bounty-hunter provision modeled on a Texas abortion law — against makers or sellers of untraceable ghost guns or illegal assault weapons.

“We do have some of the toughest gun laws in the country,” Sen. Anthony Portantino, D-La Cañada Flintridge (Los Angeles County), told his colleagues amid news of the slaughter inside an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas. But public enforcement of those laws has not been enough to protect Californians against the “new wave of weapons,” he said, and private lawsuits would create “an incentive to get these dangerous weapons off the street.”

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said the 18-year-old gunman, who was carrying a handgun and possibly a rifle, was also killed.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom quickly raised the gun-control issue. “Another shooting. And the GOP won’t do a damn thing about it,” Newsom tweeted several hours after the shooting. We need nationwide, comprehensive, commonsense gun safety NOW.”

SB1327, coauthored by Portantino and Sen. Robert Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys (Los Angeles County), was the brainchild of Newsom, who proposed it in December after the Supreme Court allowed Texas to enforce its abortion law. That law allows Texans to sue anyone who performs or aids an abortion in the state for $10,000, plus attorneys’ fees, if the abortion occurred after the start of cardiac activity, about six weeks into a pregnancy.

“If that’s the precedent then we’ll let Californians sue those who put ghost guns and assault weapons on our streets,” Newsom said on Twitter after the court issued its decision.

The Senate approved the bill on a 24-10 vote and sent it to the Assembly.

California’s definition of illegal assault weapons includes AR-15-style semiautomatic rifles and pistols with detachable magazines and specific features, such as forward pistol grips. Semiautomatic firearms do not require reloading after each squeeze of the trigger.

Ghost guns are sold in parts, without serial numbers or background checks, and assembled by the user. They have been increasingly used in lethal shootings — San Francisco police said ghost gun parts were found at nearly half the scenes of homicides in the city in 2020 — and have proven difficult for officers to detect and confiscate, a hurdle likely to hamper private enforcement as well.

The Biden administration has issued regulations requiring background checks and serial numbers on the firearms, and AB1621 by Assembly Member Mike Gipson, D-Los Angeles, now awaiting an Assembly vote, would ban the manufacture, possession or sale in California of any guns that do not meet the federal standards.

An opponent of SB1327, Sen. Andreas Borgeas, R-Fresno, said Tuesday that he would favor requiring serial numbers on all guns but opposed private enforcement.

Paying private citizens and their attorneys to enforce the law would be “a tacit admission that we’ve hollowed out law enforcement in such a way that it can’t do what needs to be done,” Borgeas said.

The Senate also approved SB1384 by Sen. Dave Min, D-Irvine (Orange County), which would require firearms dealers in California to install audio and video surveillance systems at their shops, purchase liability insurance and undergo annual training by the state on how to recognize and prevent “straw purchases” of guns for those not entitled to possess them. The bill was sent to the Assembly on a 27-9 vote.

Bob Egelko is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: begelko@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @BobEgelko

Exit mobile version