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California follows the lead of Texas, in the wrong way

The California Assembly on Monday voted to approve legislation authorizing lawsuits to be filed over the sale of certain weapons. Specifically, according to the Associated Press, the bill “would allow people to sue anyone who distributes illegal assault weapons, parts that can be used to build weapons, guns without serial numbers, or .50 caliber rifles. They would be awarded at least $10,000 in civil damages for each weapon, plus attorneys fees.”

The legislation, Senate Bill 1327, is being carried by Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Los Angeles, and has been championed by Gov. Gavin Newsom because the proposed mechanism of unleashing civil lawsuits to target disfavored weapons mimics a Texas law authorizing lawsuits against certain abortion providers. This proposed mechanism of incentivizing lawsuits against political targets of governments is a particularly odious means of dealing with issues.

As Texas District Court Judge David Peeples warned back in December, “In our polarized country  other states with different electorates and different priorities might decide to use these procedures to put other people out of business or to stamp out behavior they dislike intensely, including other areas of life covered by constitutional law. The undesired activities targeted in other states, of course, might be different.”

That’s precisely what California is doing. Shilpi Agarwal, legal director at the ACLU of Northern California, warned our editorial board that by mimicking Texas, California is wrongly falling into the trap of giving credence to this mechanism, which in turn will undoubtedly be used in other states against causes and communities of concern to progressive Californians.

For these reasons and more, though there was minimal opposition in the state legislature to this bill, the American Civil Liberties Union opposed it on principled grounds in a rare point of agreement with gun rights groups.

“We cannot stand silently by while California leaders escalate an ‘arms race’ of new weapons to curtail the adjudication of rights by setting up bounty-hunting schemes on politically sensitive issues,” they warned.

Alas, these warnings went ignored in the Legislature, where politics trumps principles.

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