Gun groups challenge California gun law modeled on Texas abortion measure

Julia Nikhinson/AP Photo

Gun rights groups have challenged a California gun law that emulates a Texas abortion measure by letting private citizens sue illegal firearms manufacturers.

The widely-anticipated lawsuit will test the legal underpinnings of a gun restriction that California Gov. Gavin Newsom explicitly framed as a rebuke to Texas and the U.S. Supreme Court. The outcome could affect both California’s gun constraints and the anti-abortion law that inspired them.

Soon after the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a Texas law deputizing private citizens to sue abortion providers, Newsom announced California would respond by applying the same logic to people who distribute or manufacture classes of firearms that are prohibited in California. Newsom signed Senate Bill 1327 in July.

A collective of gun rights groups and individuals have argued California’s law is unconstitutional because it limits their ability to dispute gun laws. A complaint filed in California’s Southern District specifically objects to a provision in the law requiring people who challenge California gun laws to pay opponents' attorney’s fees if they don't prevail.

The lawsuit argues that provision “singles out firearms advocates’ protected activity and seeks to choke off their access to the courts.” Some of the plaintiffs have also sued California to invalidate its ban on assault weapons.

“Plaintiffs hope to challenge a state law restricting their right to possess firearms, but they (and their counsel) are concerned that doing so could bankrupt them,” the complaint says.

While the lawsuit does not explicitly dispute the private lawsuit component of SB 1327, it nevertheless targets a common feature of California’s gun law and Texas’s abortion measure, which also requires challengers to pay legal fees. California Attorney General Rob Bonta critiqued the Texas provision in an amicus brief, and U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor raised due process issues.

The groups challenging California’s law noted California “adopted this fee-shifting scheme as a response to — and apparently in retaliation for — a similar fee-shifting scheme that Texas enacted in connection with abortion regulations.”

“But tit-for-tat is not a rational or permissible justification for the classifications in this case,” the complaint says, adding that “punishing Second Amendment litigants in retaliation against Texas for enacting its own abortion restrictions in SB 8 is plainly illegitimate.”