Mia Tretta (center), who was shot in the stomach with a ghost gun during a school shooting in 2019, embraces Gov. Gavin Newsom moments after he signed SB 1327 — a law allowing citizens to sue gunmakers — on July 22, 2022, in Los Angeles. (David McNew/Getty Images)
Gov. Gavin Newsom signed legislation Friday making California the first state to allow individual citizens to sue gun makers and sellers who violate state law.
SB 1327, authored by state Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-San Fernando Valley, allows individuals to file civil lawsuits against anyone who imports, distributes, manufactures or sells illegal firearms in California, including assault weapons and hard-to-trace ghost guns — both of which are prohibited under the state’s restrictive gun laws.
The controversial, high-profile move fulfills a promise Newsom made after the U.S. Supreme Court in December allowed a Texas anti-abortion-rights law to take effect. It comes a day after the governor signed a package of eight other bills aimed at further restricting access to guns.
Flanked by state Attorney General Rob Bonta, lawmakers and gun violence survivors, Newsom signed the bill at Santa Monica College, where six people were killed in 2013 when a gunman opened fire with an AR-15-type semi-automatic assault weapon that the shooter assembled using component parts without serial numbers. Under the new law, victims of so-called ghost guns will be allowed to sue the companies that manufacture and sell them.
Newsom called the legislation “perhaps the most impactful thing we have done in California in decades … allowing 40 million Californians to enforce the law.”
Referring to gun rights’ supporters and the firearm industry lobby, Newsom said, “We are sick and tired of being on the defense in this movement. It's time to put them on the defense.”
Newsom implored other states to act more boldly if the federal government fails to do so.
“I hope other Democratic governors in other states take notice. We need to take these guns off the streets,” he said. “Let's meet this moment and let's not have any more moments saying, ‘We could have, would have and should have.’”
The new law, set to go into effect in January, allows citizens to sue violators for $10,000 per weapon involved in a crime. Gun dealers who illegally sell firearms to anyone younger than 21 are also liable for the same damages.
Newsom was introduced on Friday by Mia Tretta, who in 2019 was hit in the stomach by a bullet fired from a ghost gun during a mass shooting at her Santa Clarita high school. “You, Gov. Newsom, are saving lives,” she said.
At the signing, Hertzberg also pledged that the Legislature would continue sending Newsom bills intended to further prevent gun violence. “If it takes another 100 laws, so be it to protect our citizens,” he said.
On Thursday, Newsom also signed a package of bills with more restrained impacts than SB 1327. They include measures that bar anyone from making more than three guns a year or making any guns with a 3D printer without obtaining a state-issued license. Other measures require schools to periodically inform parents about the safe storage of firearms, prohibit gun sales on state property, boost inspections of gun dealers, and add child and elder abuse to the list of crimes that block gun ownership.
Two weeks ago Newsom signed another bill introduced by San Francisco Democratic Assemblymember Phil Ting that allows individuals, as well as state and local governments, to sue gun manufacturers for negligence that results in injury or death. The bill creates a code of conduct for firearms makers and allows civil lawsuits for violations.
The new laws come amid a rise in gun violence in recent years — both in California and nationwide — and a spate of mass shootings in just the last few months, including one at a school in Uvalde, Texas, in late May that left 19 children and two teachers dead, and a July 4 massacre in Highland Park, Illinois, that killed seven people and injured dozens more.
Many of California's new gun control laws are more than likely to face legal challenges, some possibly making their way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
To elevate his ongoing political jousting match with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott — an anti-abortion-rights, pro-gun-rights Republican — Newsom also ran an ad Friday in several Texas newspapers repurposing a statement Abbott made when he signed his state’s anti-abortion-rights law last year. In the ad, the word “abortion” is crossed out and replaced with “gun violence” as the cause of children’s deaths.
“If Texas can ban abortion and endanger lives, California can ban deadly weapons of war and save lives,” Newsom said in a statement announcing the ad. “If Governor Abbott truly wants to protect the right to life, I urge him to follow California’s lead.”
Newsom has flatly denied that these out-of-state ad campaigns are intended to promote his rumored run for president, but they have successfully garnered the attention of national media outlets and Democrats hungry for outspoken leaders willing to forcefully take on the Supreme Court, the gun industry and the Republican establishment.
Indeed, Newsom has declared himself to be “pro-life,” borrowing the phrase used by anti-abortion-rights activists and turning it against them, the gun lobby and others who oppose restrictions on firearms.
Asked Friday if he was considering a run for president, Newsom reiterated his previous position that he has “subzero” interest.
Stay in touch. Sign up for our daily newsletter.