Column: Trump’s judges come for California’s gun laws. Can we stop them?

The front page of Thursday’s Uvalde Leader-News was a solid black box, broken only by the date of the mass shooting that killed 19 small children and two teachers: May 24, 2022.

The front page of the Los Angeles Times also featured a black box filled with the names of the dead.

We are out of words.

Worse, we may be running out of options to control AR-15s and other high-powered firearms in California and across the country, as conservative judges are poised to return to a Wild West era of gun rights. As in, anything goes.

“Wake up, folks,” Governor Gavin Newsom warned a roomful of reporters at the Capitol on Wednesday. “Read the opinions. Watch what’s going on.”

The media had been called to the dome of the Capitol for a last-minute backlash to Texan Governor Greg Abbott, who had spoken earlier that morning. called California gun laws ineffective† That’s my opinion anyway. The event turned out to be little more than a photo opportunity and a chance for a visibly angry Newsom to voice his nemesis. But his comments about the judiciary were sharp and fearless.

The biggest threat to gun control in the Golden State is “extremist judges,” Newsom warned, even pledging to sign a dozen new gun laws if the legislature passes them. No doubt some will eventually be challenged in court, before the Federalist Society judges, many appointed by Trump, who intend to pull the US as far to the right as possible.

In particular, Newsom checked a Trump-appointed 9th Circuit Court of Appeals judge, Judge Ryan D. Nelson, who penned a recent 2-1 decision outlawing California’s unconstitutional ban on allowing anyone under the age of 21 to have an assault weapon. . My personal favorite line of reasoning in that opinion was this justification for why teens are entitled to semi-automatic rifles:

“Semi-automatic rifles can defeat modern body armor, have a much longer range than shotguns and are more effective at protecting roaming children on large farms, are much more accurate and able to prevent collateral damage, and are generally easier for small young adults to use.” and handling,” Nelson wrote.

Okay then. Small hands need big weapons. I get it.

As for collateral damage, Uvalde’s shooter seems to have craved more of it, not less. Newsom mused on, “how Judge Nelson feels, wondering how proud he is of the opinion he’s written.”

But Nelson is not the worst crisis facing California’s gun laws. UCLA professor and constitutional lawyer Adam Winkler told me the gap is narrowing between the judicial version of the 2nd Amendment and the “ambitious” 2nd Amendment romanticized by the 1776 patriot types.

The Supreme Court, Winkler said, “magnifies” the 2nd Amendment.

Within weeks, that court will rule on a New York case over who has the right to bear arms in public. Many fear that the ultra-conservative majority that now controls the court is about to respond with a resounding “almost everyone.”

What follows could be a cascade of other gun lawsuits that affect our ability to regulate guns, similar to what is expected with the recent ruling nullifying abortion rights — further attacks on privacy rights such as access to contraception and same-sex marriage.

If the court makes a broad ruling on hidden carrying rights, which is at issue in the case, everything we need to know about gun control could go back to, as experts describe it, text, history and tradition—basically reinforcing the last four words of the 2nd Amendment: A well-regulated militia, necessary for the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, must not be violated

Age restrictions? No infringement may be made. High capacity magazines? No infringement may be made. Waiting times? No infringement may be made.

If that sounds alarming, consider what Stanford professor John Donohue, an expert on gun laws, has to say. “All those laws are in jeopardy,” he told me, when the court decides they want to go that far.

Donohue is somewhat hopeful that the trio of recent mass shootings at Buffalo, Laguna Woods and Uvalde Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. could give a little power to “control his somewhat headstrong colleagues”.

But, he added, “There are five of them, and if they don’t want to be checked, they can do a lot of damage.”

What does that do to California, which fortunately has some of the country’s most violating gun laws?

Our state would be one of the hardest hit by a broad court ruling, and it would send a signal to lower courts, such as Nelson’s 9th Circuit, that abolishing gun safety laws is welcome.

Combined with dastardly Republicans’ refusal to pass gun safety legislation at the federal level, that puts California in a legal throw-it-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks-by-passer. Remember when we filed three billion lawsuits against Trump? something like that. Maybe some of it works, maybe it just slows the whole thing down.

That ethos is already evident in one of the most significant pieces of gun control legislation this year, Senate Bill 1397, a somewhat insane idea modeled after the Texas abortion law that would allow citizens to bring civil suits against those they suspect are producing illegally. , distribute, transport, import, or sell assault weapons, .50 BMG rifles, ghost weapons, or ghost weapon kits.

That proposal is likely legally correct and serves the dual purpose of tweaking Texas and somewhere down the line forcing the Supreme Court to decide whether what’s good for the goose is good for the goosey-gander when it comes to vigilantes. But some experts wonder who would want to charge a potentially violent arms dealer without the protection of law enforcement officers.

Perhaps it will inspire a reality show, featuring a Fresno bounty hunter seeking out basement dealers for the cash reward. Or, as Donohue envisioned, “maybe some ex-servicemen could set up a company that has a deal: ‘If you have a problem with a neighbor, call us and we’ll take care of them,'” he half-joked.

It may be a sign of desperation that California is even considering such measures. But it’s smart.

State Sen. Nancy Skinner (D-Berkeley), who wrote our precedent-setting red flag bill in 2016 that allows family members and law enforcement officers to request courts to remove weapons from people deemed a public danger, told me outside of Newsom’s News conference that “we’re just going to be more and more creative… about how to protect the things we think are essential, right, moral things to do.”

She wants to find ways to go after the manufacturers, which are shielded by federal law. Gun sales are higher than ever, she emphasizes.

California can only do so much to change the national status quo — including near-weekly massacres — even if the National Rifle Assn. and his bootlickers keep winning. The state’s adversaries are well armed with their stacked courts and flimsy political pawns.

But we have California ingenuity – rooted in the knowledge that failure means more death.

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