December 21, 2021

Governor Newsom recently announced that he has directed his staff to work with the California legislature and Attorney General to draft a bill that would “create a right of action allowing private citizens to seek injunctive relief, and statutory damages of at least $10,000 per violation plus costs and attorney’s fees, against anyone who manufactures, distributes, or sells an assault weapon or ghost gun kit or parts in the State of California.”  This announcement was a knee jerk reaction to the recent Supreme Court decision allowing the Texas abortion law to remain in place while litigation proceeds.  The Texas abortion law was drafted in a manner to prevent abortion providers from obtaining an injunction against the state prohibiting enforcement of the law on the basis that it violates the Supreme Court’s decision in Roe v. Wade.  By prohibiting the state from enforcing the ban, while allowing private citizens to do so, the Texas abortion law was specifically designed to evade review by the federal courts.

Governor Newsom’s proposed legislation appears to have been primarily intended to create publicity.   California law already bans the sale of “assault weapons” and “ghost guns” in California.  The law banning “assault weapons” has been declared unconstitutional on the basis that it violates the Second Amendment by Judge Benitez of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California.  That decision is currently on appeal.  If reversed and the ban reinstated, California will be able to continue to enforce its ban on “assault weapons.”  There would be no restrictions against the State of California itself bringing a lawsuit to enforce its statutes banning the sale of “assault weapons” and “ghost guns” in California against anyone who violates such statutes, or criminally prosecuting persons who violate such laws.   Based on the existence of criminal statutes providing for fines and imprisonment for selling “assault weapons” and “ghost guns” in California, the threat of private lawsuits for statutory damages will not have any deterrent effect.   Only if the Ninth Circuit affirms the decision that California’s “assault weapons” ban violates the Second Amendment, would the lawsuits proposed by Governor Newsom have any purpose.  In that event, however, the proposed lawsuits would likely be dismissed by the courts on the basis that they violate the Second Amendment.

Renzulli Law Firm will continue to monitor state and federal legislation designed to allow lawsuits against the firearms industry.  If you have any questions concerning the legislation proposed by Governor Newsom, or similar legislation, please contact John F. Renzulli or Christopher Renzulli.