California Gov. Gavin Newsom thinks it’s time we do something about the damn guns. Specifically, he thinks it’s time for an amendment to the US Constitution that would ban assault weapons, change the minimum age to buy a firearm from 18 to 21, require universal background checks for all gun purchases, and impose a waiting period for all gun purchases. Hey, Gavin, where’s the ban on high-capacity magazines? We need that too! There’ll probably be some time to revise the draft before it passes the 34 states needed to call a constitutional convention to add the amendment.
OK, and then there’s the whole deal where a constitutional convention would be a terrible idea, an invitation to completely rewrite the Constitution and turn America into the Republic of Gilead or worse, although we’ll set that aside for this piece so we can focus on the gun part, since in practical terms Newsom’s proposal is unlikely to take off, seeing as how Republicans currently control more than half the state legislatures anyway. Of course, that’s not written in stone either, considering how sick Americans are getting of Republicans’ devotion to guns over human lives.
I really do think Newsom is on to something here, not because we’re likely to get a 28th Amendment limiting gun rights (or a runaway convention imposing a Catholic monarchy) anytime soon, but because calling for a constitutional amendment to reduce guns is going to get the words “constitutional amendment” and “guns” into the public conversation. As Newsom told Politico, it’s a way to break out of the cycle we’re so horribly familiar with: Another massacre, Republicans call for “thoughts and prayers” while stymying attempts to pass laws, and and more futile heartbreak and disgust at the carnage. Let’s do something different instead.
“This is a mechanism to address that despair,” Newsom said in an interview. […] “We’re sick of being on the defense and throwing up our hands. We want to go on the offense and be for something and build a movement that’s bottom up, not top down.”
Newsom said he’s fully aware of how hard it is to amend the Constitution, particularly starting with the states instead of in Congress, which is how all 27 existing amendments started. Not a single attempt to amend via a constitutional convention has ever gone anywhere (and probably thank Crom). But as Politico says,
his plan is distinctly Newsom: designed to draw maximum public attention on an issue where he sees Americans’ views as being far ahead of their governments’. In the interview, Newsom said his motivation to act on guns was inspired by a rollback of gun control measures in courts amid the unending series of mass killings. Specifically, he said, it’s meant to address “the echo chamber of despair out there today.”
Newsom is pushing for the amendment through his new Campaign for Democracy PAC, funding the PAC with $10 million left over from his 2022 reelection campaign, which he won in a landslide. He’s worried that with the Trumpification of federal courts, state and even federal laws trying to limit the tide of gun deaths aren’t at all guaranteed to hold up, telling Politico, “They’re literally throwing out all of the progress many of us have made in these blue states.”
Newsom’s aides added that the campaign was also motivated in part by federal courts’ dismantling some of California’s gun laws, like a 2021 decision that struck down California’s ban on assault weapons, which has been in place since 1989. In that decision, Judge Roger Benitez compared the AR-15 to a “Swiss Army Knife … a perfect combination of home defense weapon and homeland defense equipment.” The decision was later stayed on appeal, but now California’s assault weapons ban is being challenged again — before Benitez again — following the Supreme Court’s Bruen decision last year. In that case, you’ll recall, the Court held that gun laws are only constitutional if they’re in line with the “history and traditions” of US laws that rightwing justices like.
Newsom spokesperson Anthony York told the Los Angeles Times, “If judges are taking radical approaches, the only recourse is to change the actual Constitution.”
Newsom also thinks it’s important to have a positive agenda in place if things get so much worse that the public mood on guns shifts because we all just can’t stand massacre after massacre, as he told Politico.
“If we reach the threshold of these mass shootings, and we have another few dozen of these in the next year or two, I think people are at a breaking point in this country, and you may see this accelerate in a pretty profound and pronounced way.”
Short of proposing something transformational, Newsom conceded that “I don’t know what the hell else to do. I don’t know what else is the answer.”
Sounding very much like a lot of American parents, Newsom said it’s about escaping the cycle of gun massacres followed by calls to “do something.” Instead, let’s start doing something now:
I got four damn kids, dude, I can’t take it anymore. […] I mean, when they go to the mall now, when they go to a movie theater, when they go to a birthday party — let alone going to school. And I have to have conversations with them about this. This is insane. It’s absolute insanity. And the biggest and most insane thing we can do is the same old BS and just point fingers. So, let’s give this a shot.”
While the constitutional convention part of Newsom’s idea seems like a nonstarter, what matters here is that he’s getting the idea out there that the Second Amendment isn’t holy writ and that, assuming democracy in general survives, the American people can indeed demand an amendment to place limits on guns. We don’t have to put up with this.
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