Newsom, Legislative Leaders Vow to Strengthen California's Already-Strict Gun Laws

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A headshot of Gov. Gavin Newsom.
Gov. Gavin Newsom, seen here at a press briefing in Oakland on Dec. 22, 2021, announced plans Wednesday to fast-track a package of gun control bills — a day after a mass shooting at an elementary school in Texas. (Brontë Wittpenn/San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images)

One day after an 18-year-old gunman killed 19 children and two adults at a Texas elementary school, California leaders pledged to pass more than a dozen pending state gun control measures in the coming month, arguing that the state's already-strict limitations have helped to significantly reduce gun violence.

Although no new pieces of legislation were introduced Wednesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom said he intends to fast-track the package of bills already working their way through the legislative process, and sign them before lawmakers leave for summer recess. Those include two measures that target ghost guns — illegal, untraceable firearms assembled at home — and one that would bar gun ads aimed at minors. Another bill would empower the state and individual citizens to sue gun dealers who don’t follow state laws — modeled in part after Texas' abortion enforcement law.

“I have nothing I can add that hasn’t been added to the conversation,” Newsom, a longtime gun control advocate, said at a Wednesday press briefing in Sacramento, where he was joined by at least 12 Democratic lawmakers. “There's no words that I can add that would add any insight and empathy or, frankly, any deeper understanding of the world we're living in. And so we're here not to add to the rhetoric. But to advance our resolve.”

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Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins struck a similarly somber note, calling for those who have opposed gun control to “put their extreme and misguided ideologies aside,” and pledging to do everything in her power to stop mass shootings in California.

“We're here because we have gotten to the point where we can't live our lives without trepidation, that every time we step outside, we may never see our families again. That's what I heard yesterday. We can't live without the fear that each goodbye to our children, our spouses and friends could be the last,” she said.

Newsom also used the moment to hit back against Texas Gov. Greg Abbott's assertion, made earlier that day, that gun laws in blue states, including in California, are not “real solutions” to prevent violence.

“Gov. Abbott just name-checked the state of California. I would caution him from doing that,” Newsom said, noting that the Republican governor has supported the weakening of gun laws in Texas. “Particularly when you just go to the CDC website and look at [Texas’] gun-murder rate in 2020, that was 67% higher than the state of California.”

California’s gun-related death rate does, in fact, pale significantly in comparison to rates in Texas and the other mostly Republican-led, southern states that top the CDC's list.

Nonetheless, the most populous state in the nation — which has among the most restrictive gun laws — has certainly not escaped the country's scourge of mass shootings or gun violence. Just last week, a man attacked parishioners at a Laguna Woods church, killing one person and wounding five others. And in early April, six people were killed in a shooting rampage in downtown Sacramento, just blocks from the Capitol.

Newsom's remarks also come a day before the one-year anniversary of a mass shooting at a transit maintenance facility in San José that claimed the lives of nine workers.

Still, the governor said the state’s decades-long efforts to restrict gun access have helped drive down death rates and inspired other states to pursue their own tough laws.

“We're going to control the controllables, the things that we have control of,” he said. “California leads this national conversation. When California moves, other states move in the same direction — so for so many of us that are feeling deep anxiety and fear, I hope you look to the state for leadership. … Those states like California that have the most progressive policies and are restricting the abuse and proliferation of guns have consistently outperformed other states in terms of gun murder rates and gun death rates.”

California's restrictions, though, are also constantly being challenged in court. Just this month, a federal court of appeals ruled that the state’s ban on sales of semi-automatic firearms to people under 21 was unconstitutional. And last year, a federal judge overturned the state’s large-capacity magazine ban, although that decision is on hold while the state appeals.

Newsom took aim at both rulings, calling out the judges by name and noting that the most recent ruling, allowing people age 18 to 20 to access large-capacity magazines, was written by Judge Ryan Nelson, a Trump appointee.

“Wonder how he's feeling right now,” he said, calling Nelson and other fervent gun-rights judges “extremists.”

“That's the world we're living in right now. Wake up, folks,” Newsom said. “Read these opinions. Pay attention to what's going on. Look at the damage that's been done in Texas and the gun-safety laws in the last few years. Look at the rhetoric you heard today about evil and mental health, as if evil doesn't exist and persist around the globe.”

“What's unique in the United States is this savagery,” he added, “because of the availability, ease and access of weapons of war, weapons of war.”