Silly Governor Tricks

With all of California's problems solved, Gavin Newsome is doing stunts.

CNN (“Newsom signs California gun bill modeled after Texas abortion law“):

California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Friday signed a bill into law that allows private citizens to bring civil action against anyone who manufactures, distributes, transports or imports assault weapons or ghost guns, which are banned in the state.

California Senate Bill 1327 is modeled after a Texas law that allows private citizens to bring civil litigation against abortion providers or anyone who assists a pregnant person in obtaining an abortion after as early as six weeks of pregnancy. The US Supreme Court in December allowed Texas’ six-week abortion ban to remain in effect, which prompted Newsom, who has been supportive of abortion rights and pro-gun control, to say he was “outraged” by the court’s decision and direct his staff to draft a similar bill to regulate guns.

Under the California law, a person would also be able to sue a licensed firearms dealer who “sells, supplies, delivers, or gives possession or control of a firearm” to anyone under 21 years old. It allows citizens to sue for a minimum of $10,000 on each weapon involved, as well as attorney fees.

Newsom, a Democrat, on Friday acknowledged that the law would likely be challenged in court.

“We believe this will be litigated in the Supreme Court and we believe the Supreme Court will be challenged. Because if there’s any principle left whatsoever — and that’s an open ended question — with this Supreme Court, there is no way they can deny us the right to move in this direction,” he said after signing the bill at Santa Monica College, the site of a 2013 shooting spree.

The law, introduced in February, says that it would become “inoperative upon invalidation” of the Texas abortion law, should the US Supreme Court or Texas Supreme Court strike down that measure. The California law would then be “repealed on January 1 of the following year.”

As a general matter, I detest using the legislative process for political grandstanding. While this is slightly more clever than most attempts, this is no exception.

The fact that this law explicitly expires if and when the Texas statute is invalidated rather gives the game away: it’s a silly stunt, not a serious attempt to regulate gun violence.

Beyond that, even as political stunts go, it’s not all that good. Like it or not, a right to keep and bear arms is explicitly written into the Constitution whereas a right to an abortion is not. So, the attempted parallel isn’t even particularly cute, regardless of what the kids on Twitter think.

Now, to be clear, the Texas abortion law is an abomination on multiple fronts. Not only does it ban abortion absurdly early—at the 6-week mark, months before fetal viability—but the civil enforcement and bounty system for enforcement are creepy, bordering on fascistic. I would like to see it struck down when the Supreme Court finally hears the merits of the case but, then again, wanted to see them issue a stay while it made its way through the system and they disappointed me on that front.

Regardless, this stunt adds fuel to the fire that Newsome is positioning himself to run for President in 2024.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Jay L Gischer says:

    I don’t know, one could call the original Texas law a silly stunt. Or their attempt to frame treatment for trans children as abusive. Or the whole border stunt.

    That said, I’m not a huge fan of Newsom, and one reason is his love of stunts. Jerry Brown wasn’t running for anything this time around, and wow, was that nice for us. He focused on pragmatic issues and moved things forward. Newsom is above the minimum standard I expect of a governor, but not by a whole lot. I only have one vote, though.

  2. Scott F. says:

    James, in your post on Tom Nichols’ column “Defending the Constitution Against All Enemies, Foreign and Domestic” you struggled to understand his first criteria for policy and politicians: Does this issue strengthen or weaken the Republicans as they continue to advocate for sedition and authoritarianism?

    I propose you consider Newsom’s latest as a case study for Nichols’ question. First, it’s not about guns vs. abortion, it’s very clearly about the civil enforcement and bounty system. Newsom is not trying to make gun control measures more restrictive in the state as California’s gun bans remain what they were. Instead, he’s making life litigious for firearms dealers and manufacturers in California. He is deploying the classic shoe-on-the-other-foot device and setting it into law because the target is in the law.

    Silly as this may seem to you, it weakens the Republicans. Regardless of the specific words in the Constitution, moderate gun control is very popular, while highly restrictive anti-abortion measures are not. Minority rule produces laws like Texas’ SB8. When democracy is at stake, you should think hard before bashing “stunts” that flip that on its head.

  3. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    As a general matter, I detest using the legislative process for political grandstanding.

    As do I. Alas, this is the world that our social contract has immersed us in. Anyone with useful suggestions for invalidating the current one and developing a new one is welcome to share.

    ETA: And of course Newsome is positioning himself for a run in 2024. I think somebody needs to.

  4. Gustopher says:

    I’m ok with this. The Texas law needs to be struck down, if only because of the enforcement mechanism, and this is a vehicle to do so.

    And Democrats should do more grandstanding. They should be seen fighting against Republican overreach, rather than just quietly trying to govern the best they can as the country is being destroyed.

  5. gVOR08 says:

    At Digby, Tom Sullivan has a post excerpting a long Brian Buetler piece.

    Brian Beutler addressed that problem this week as a difference between how Dempcrats (sic) and Republicans conceive of their roles, writing, “At bottom, I think the explanation is that the right has imagined itself as an insurgent force in American politics and the center-left has accepted its incumbency, or the inevitability of progress on a long-enough time scale.”

    That’s exactly how GOPs get away with attacking “elites” when they themselves are the political and economic elites.

    Beutler describes GOP politics in the 2010s,

    They still cut taxes for the rich and sabotaged social programs when the opportunity arose. But the first thing they did after the 2010 midterms was gerrymander Democrats into semi-permanent minority status anywhere they could. Then they came for labor rights and public-sector unions and campaign-finance regulations and voting rights and the Census. When they’ve lost, they’ve used their expiring trifectas to strip incoming Democrats of the authorities they had wielded gleefully. They use power not just to remake the social contract, but as a means of power accretion in itself. In the Trump and post-Trump era, the core Republican aspiration is to torment and persecute liberals and their purported allies; to wield power from the minority through nullification and judicial fiat; to own the libs.

    The Democratic Party’s ambitions haven’t changed to counter this rogue turn.

    The broad left has effectively redoubled its conviction that the best way to deal with the right’s politics of rule or ruin is to pull the policy lever ever harder. Different Democrats have different intuitions about how the policy lever is supposed to work. Progressives imagine transformational, redistributive policies will generate working-class solidarity and an unbeatable rainbow coalition. Moderates believe competent management, along with popular but incremental new reforms will capture the political center, without which Republicans can’t win.

    But both believe that good policy, and good execution, are destiny, and that consensus is visible in the party’s vast technocratic class, the army of Mr. Fix-its who ride to the rescue after Republicans leave everything in a smoldering heap.

    Sullivan concludes,

    They two parties are not even playing the same game. Democrats are playing one their opponents have long abandoned, and by rules Republicans think are for suckers.

    Ds are politely pushing policy. GOPs are fighting the Culture War. They’re not winning that war, but they aren’t playing to win. They’re playing to build a side. If you want to call it a cult, fine, but remember it’ll still be there when Trump is gone. They don’t care about culture issues, they care about using culture issues to create a loyal tribe so they can maintain power.

    My own personal kick is don’t say they’re a threat, don’t say they’re dangerous. Too may people hear that as “strong”. Make them look marginal and ridiculous. Not only do we have all the creatives to craft that message, it’s true. They are ridiculous. Howard Dean was right to run a 50 state strategy, fight everywhere. But recognize that some of them are in fact “deplorable”. Some people can’t be gotten. Write them off and marginalize them.

    Goddamit, fight. If Newsom is willing to make Texas’ stupid abortion vigilante law look ridiculous, more power to him, and I won’t be too scrupulous about matters of dignity and taste. After all, he’s not really making it look ridiculous, he’s revealing it as ridiculous. And if that makes it easier for the Federalist asshats to overturn the TX law and say “Look how reasonable we are. You should respect us (despite the clown makeup).”, fine. As long as they get rid of it. And people see that Abbott and Paxton did something ridiculous.

  6. DAllenABQ says:

    This is grandstanding and I am all for it. The R party stands for nothing anymore but the raw exercise of power, and so long as this is true the D party playing conventional, coalition-building and policy oriented politics is a loser’s game. The whole point of the CA law is for it to be challenged and force the courts, and (maybe) eventually SCOTUS to have to explain itself.

    And a large quibble; the right to keep and bear arms is explicitly written into the Constitution as being subject to a well-regulated militia. Yes, I know that Scalia (the bestest legal textualist ever) ignored that part of the text of 2A, but the words are still there.

  7. Moosebreath says:

    “[T]he civil enforcement and bounty system for enforcement are creepy, bordering on fascistic. I would like to see it struck down when the Supreme Court finally hears the merits of the case but, then again, wanted to see them issue a stay while it made its way through the system and they disappointed me on that front.”

    What makes you think the Supreme Court has not effectively told us their views on the merits of the case against the civil enforcement and bounty system by refusing to issue a stay? Entirely serious question.

  8. Scott F. says:

    Exactly. What Sullivan notes…

    The two parties are not even playing the same game. Democrats are playing one their opponents have long abandoned, and by rules Republicans think are for suckers.

    … Charlie Sykes punctuates:

    “Democrats think they are playing a game of chess, and agonize over whether to move their rook or their king, while their opponents simply bring a f**cking axe to smash the board.

  9. Lounsbury says:

    @Scott F.: Indeed, it rather is quite the interesting political ploy – rather excessively pious OP analysis although in keeping with inside-the-box reflection.

  10. Jim Brown 32 says:

    Sorry James,

    But THIS is EXACTLY what POLITICS looks like. Granted, there are 2-sides to every coin and this is clearly negative politics..its still politics.

    I was like you an most academics/technocrats–thinking the how/why was important. They are–AFTER the votes are casts and technocrats assemble in committee rooms and at white boards. Governance discussions are not the language of voters.

    Politics is the language of what and where–told through stories and value displays: “We are–THIS”

    These are not stunts–they are the wieldings of political craftsmanship. Newsome’s Florida Ads are brilliant. More blue states should pile on and do the same in the old south. The fact that most institutionalist and academics view this craft as “stunts” demonstrates how atrophied the sane elite’s political acumen is–and why we have such a thing as “Red America”

  11. Michael Reynolds says:

    I’m with @Scott F on this. I think it’s rather a clever trick, and I am pleased to see any Democrats show some fight.

  12. BugManDan says:

    I agree with most of the comments that this is the kind of stunt that Dems need to do. My only worry is that the SCOTUS, uses this law to actually rule against CAs gun control rules. Remember, Roberts only wanted the abortion case to rule on MSs limitation and not completely kill Roe partly because killing Roe wasn’t actually the question before the court.