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Could Texas' abortion ban be used as a model for gun laws?

If Texas Republicans can create a bounty system to ban abortions, can California Democrats do the same thing to ban assault weapons?


When Texas' radical anti-abortion ban took effect with a green light from the U.S. Supreme Court, one of the many concerns raised by reproductive rights advocates was that copycats would soon follow. After all, if conservative justices were willing to allow S.B. 8 to be implemented, there was nothing to stop Republicans elsewhere from simply adopting the same model.

Those fears were well justified: GOP legislators in Alabama last week unveiled a Texas-style abortion ban, a day after Republicans in Arkansas did the same thing. In all, four states are weighing proposals to adopt the bounty system currently in place in Texas.

But what if Democrats tried a similar idea in pursuit of progressive goals? NBC News reported over the weekend:

California Gov. Gavin Newsom said he plans to use the same tactic as Texas' abortion law to target assault rifle sales after the Supreme Court declined to block enforcement of the law. Newsom said in a statement Saturday that he has directed his staff to collaborate with the Legislature and Attorney General Rob Bonta to draft a bill that would allow private citizens to sue "anyone who manufactures, distributes, or sells an assault weapon or ghost gun kit or parts in the State of California."

"If states can shield their laws from review by federal courts, then [California] will use that authority to help protect lives," the Democratic governor said online.

He added, "If the most efficient way to keep these devastating weapons off our streets is to add the threat of private lawsuits, we should do just that."

Keep in mind, Texas' abortion ban broke new legal ground. As regular readers know, the Lone Star State has effectively deputized random citizens, empowering them to go after those who have abortions after six weeks of pregnancy for $10,000, plus attorneys' fees. The result was, and is, a system that turned anti-abortion activists into bounty hunters.

California Democrats obviously have no intention of following Texas' lead with regard to reproductive rights, but they could make use of the statutory chassis. The Golden State could, in other words, effectively deputize random citizens, empowering them to go after those who have illegal assault weapons for $10,000, plus attorneys' fees.

It's worth emphasizing for context that Texas' law has not cleared the courts on the merits. Up until now, the legal fight has focused on the question of whether opponents of S.B. 8 can challenge it in the courts, not whether the law itself is legally permissible. If Texas' bounty system is ultimately rejected, a related gun law in California would likely run into similar trouble.

But if Texas' law is upheld, it may very well inspire unintended copycats.