Democrats are using the Republicans ‘bounty hunters’ playbook against them. Will it work?
Governor Greg Abbott changed everything by signing Texas Senate Bill 8 in May. He knew ratifying the country’s most restrictive abortion ban wasn’t just a publicity stunt – not with a 6-3 qualified majority for Supreme Court conservatives. It was a legitimate chance to realize the decades-long mission of right-wing evangelicals to finally bring down Roe vs. Wade.
But Abbott, who was just named Texas Monthly’s Bum Steer of the Year 2022, has done more than put a target on the backs of Texas women and the state’s few abortion providers. He embraced a bounty hunter-style self-defense justice that enabled private citizens to enforce his dangerous anti-abortion law. And he left the door open for Democrats to do the same.
On Saturday – just a day after the Supreme Court chose not to prevent SB 8 from coming into effect – California Governor Gavin Newsom did just that. The Democrat announcement that, alongside the state attorney general and the state legislature, he was working to create a bill that would allow individuals to prosecute people who sell, manufacture or distribute assault weapons . The proposed legislation would also apply to “ghost gun” kits, which are do-it-yourself gun assembly sets that produce weapons that cannot be found without a serial number.
“I am outraged by the Supreme Court rulings yesterday allowing Texas’s ban on most abortion services to remain in place and broadly endorsing Texas’ plan to isolate its law from core protections. Roe vs. Wade“Newsom said in a written statement.” But if states can now protect their laws from scrutiny by federal courts that compare assault weapons to Swiss knives, then California will use that authority to protect the lives of people, where Texas used it to endanger women. “
Newsom was clear in his call from Texas. His proposal will essentially be to copy and paste the application language of Abbott’s abortion bill. Even the amount that people can be sued for is the same: $ 10,000.
By deploying the Texas bounty hunter strategy here, Newsom hopes to use a similar loophole to revive California’s long-standing assault weapons ban. US District Judge Roger Benitez overturned the ban in June after comparing the AR-15 rifles to Swiss Army knives because they are “a perfect combination of a national defense weapon and a national defense weapon. “.
It is an important movement. If enacted, the law could serve as a stopgap for California’s previous ban, which had been in place for 32 years. Perhaps more importantly, it could open the floodgates for similar actions by lawmakers and Democratic officials across the country.
During a appearance to View today New York Attorney General Letitia James announced that she plans to follow Newsom’s lead. “We need to hold gun manufacturers and gun distributors accountable,” she said, noting that her plan would rely on a bounty hunter-style app to ban phantom weapons.
The chances that Newsom and James’ efforts will bear fruit are, of course, slim. Unlike the abortion issue, it’s safe to assume that federal courts – especially the right-wing Supreme Court – will be much less receptive to legislative workarounds when it comes to guns. At this point, Texas State Senator Bryan Hughes, author of SB 8, didn’t seem fazed by the prospect.
“I would say Gov. Newsom good luck with that,” Hughes told the Texas Tribune on Monday. “If California takes this route, they will find that California gun owners are breaking the law knowing they will be prosecuted and knowing the Supreme Court is backing them because the right to own and bear guns is clearly enshrined.” in the Constitution, and the courts have clearly and consistently confirmed this.
It remains to be seen whether California gun owners and dealers will follow Hughes’ advice by intentionally breaking the law in the hope of prosecution. But he has a legitimate point. Women’s reproductive health and access to abortion are, sadly, much less protected by our legal system than a person’s ability to easily (and with phantom weapons, untraceable) acquire a weapon. assault.
Doomed as they may seem, these efforts by Newsom and James should not be overlooked or put aside. Instead, they should be seen as harbingers of what’s to come. Indeed, this is probably just the first taste of an avalanche of copycat bills on a myriad of issues that will be pouring in from across the country. It’s a worrying prospect, to be sure. But Texas Republicans and the Supreme Court opened Pandora’s Box when they legitimized vigilante justice to bypass a long-standing legal precedent.
The question is where will the Democrats – who have always been content with moral victories while playing by the rules – will take things from here? It remains to be seen. But one thing is clear: they would do well to get their hands dirty and try to grab a few wins of their own.
Photo: Scott Heins / Getty Images