California could allow citizens to sue for illegal firearms
Despite all of California’s attempts to regulate guns, the state hasn’t found a way to deter those who are happy to circumvent the laws with increasingly common stolen or homemade “ghost” weapons.
In just two recent instances, police said the first gun recovered after gunmen killed six people and injured 12 people in downtown Sacramento early Sunday was stolen. The homemade assault weapon a father used a month ago and a few miles away to kill his three daughters, their chaperone and then himself was unregistered.
“People say we have the toughest gun laws in the country. But they are clearly not tough enough,” Democratic Sen. Robert Hertzberg said Monday.
The latest mass shooting in a nightclub area a few blocks from the state Capitol has renewed calls for tougher gun laws from President Joe Biden. Biden called on Congress to take many nationwide measures that California already has in place — mandating background checks, banning assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, and banning ghost weapons.
The most populous state will consider an innovative new approach on Tuesday when Hertzberg, at the request of Gov. Gavin Newsom, expects to take the first step in advancing a bill allowing private citizens to sue anyone who distributes firearms. illegal assault, parts that can be used to build weapons, rifles without a serial number or .50 caliber rifles.
The penalty: at least $10,000 in civil damages for each weapon, plus attorney’s fees.
But the bill would not prevent anyone from owning or using the guns, despite them being illegal under other laws. And that wouldn’t include stolen guns unless they are otherwise made illegal, for example by registering the serial number.
“Hopefully that will be a deterrent to people with ghost guns or assault weapons,” Hertzberg said. “You must have millions of eyeballs looking for these weapons. If someone flashes one, talks about it, all of a sudden there’s an incentive among the public in a way that has never been before to try and get them off the streets.
Yet Hertzberg’s bill is modeled after a similar law in Texas allowing citizens to sue those who provide or help provide abortions. And even if it becomes law, Hertzberg’s bill will automatically be struck down if the Texas law is ultimately found to be unconstitutional.
“It’s a tit for tat political game, which is the worst reason to pass any kind of bill,” said Chuck Michel, president of the California Rifle and Pistol Association and an attorney who has written a book on the California’s complicated gun laws. “You’re going to deputize for a bunch of amateurs – non-lawyers, non-cops – to judge a neighbor’s actions, then give them the right to take them to court about it.”
The Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, which generally favors gun restrictions, did not take a position on the bill.
The center’s director of state policy, attorney Ari Freilich, said it would “essentially bring greater oversight to the enforcement of certain specific criminal laws in California.”
“It’s not something that’s really been tried before,” Freilich said.
He wouldn’t predict whether it would be effective, but said the proposal presented “potential challenges”. Among them are the encouragement of civil actions to punish crimes and the establishment of a “bounty” to be collected by those who have not been directly harmed.
His organization supports other bills, including one that would make it easier for people to sue gun companies for liability in shootings that cause injury or death. Two other bills also target gun parts and guns without serial numbers, and those made with 3D printers.
Legislative analysts have also raised concerns, including that California’s bill could be seen as legitimizing Texas’ approach.
Much like the Texas law, analysts said Hertzberg’s legislation was drafted so broadly that it could trap, for example, “a taxi driver who takes a person to a gun shop,” although Hertzberg said that was not the intention.
The parts used to make guns aren’t themselves illegal, but a California law taking effect July 1 will require that they be sold only through licensed gun dealers.
Senator Tom Umberg, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and a Democrat like Hertzberg and Newsom, said he expects Hertzberg’s bill to authorize his committee “to continue the conversation about the absurdity of Texas law”.
Umberg said he supports Hertzberg’s goal, though he acknowledges “the enforcement mechanism is subject to challenge.”
The bill would then have to wipe out two more committees before getting a full Senate vote. You would also have to pass the Assembly before going to Newsom.
Hertzberg said he thinks his bill could also help take down dangerous domestic abusers like David Mora. Investigators say Mora used a homemade semi-automatic rifle-style weapon with an illegal 30-round ammo magazine to kill his daughters at a Sacramento church on February 28 despite a restraining order barring him from possessing weapons .
“I think it will have bigger teeth, sharper teeth than a court order,” Hertzberg said. “It goes into someone’s bank account. You win this case, you seize their bank account. Their world is changing.
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California Gun Liability