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Why Newsom’s long shot for federal gun control isn’t panning out

A person holds part of an assault-style rifle.
The San Diego Gun Show held at the East San Diego Masonic Lodge drew crowds to the event hosted by the San Diego County Gun Owners Political Action Committee.
(John Gastaldo / For The Times)
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Good morning. It’s Tuesday, June 11. Here’s what you need to know to start your day.

Why Newsom’s long shot for federal gun control isn’t panning out

In June 2023, Gov. Gavin Newsom called for a U.S. Constitutional amendment that would ban assault weapons, require universal background checks and waiting periods for firearm purchases and raise the minimum age to buy guns from 18 to 21.

“The 28th Amendment will enshrine in the Constitution common sense gun safety measures that Democrats, Republicans, independents, and gun owners overwhelmingly support — while leaving the 2nd Amendment unchanged and respecting America’s gun-owning tradition,” Newsom said in a statement last year.

The endeavor was a long shot, to put it mildly. It would require two-thirds of the nation’s state legislatures to vote in favor of a constitutional convention — at a time when Republicans control more than half of the statehouses.

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So it’s not surprising that a year later, his proposal has gone nowhere.

California stands alone in passing Newsom’s resolution — though some prominent state Democrats opposed it or declined to vote, concerned that calling for a constitutional convention could open the door for Republican-controlled states to pass amendments of their own.

“The inability to advance the gun safety proposal beyond California, even in other Democratic-controlled states, suggests that — so far at least — Newsom’s plan was more flash than substance,” The Times Taryn Luna and Laurel Rosenhall reported this week.

University of Texas law school professor Sanford Levinson told them it’s no surprise Newsom isn’t getting buy-in — even among his Democratic peers.

“He’s swimming upstream in terms of trying to persuade people that a constitutional amendment regarding guns is going to be a very fruitful way of spending their time,” he said.

So how is Newsom taking this lack of progress? He told Taryn and Laurel it was to be expected.

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“Come on, no one was naive about this,” Newsom said in a recent interview. “This has been done before, but not recently. It will have its fits and starts. It will have its champions and will have its setbacks.”

Newsom also told them he’s had “dozens of conversations” with other states’ legislative leaders in the past year, but he and his staff did not want to name the states or the leaders.

Opposition to the idea from red states is pretty much a given, but Taryn and Laurel spoke with prominent Democrats in Oregon and Washington state who said they haven’t heard from Newsom and haven’t discussed passing their own resolutions.

According to Newsom’s team, some of the inertia can be chalked up to the chaotic election year, as statehouses focus on local and national races.

Still, Laurel and Taryn note, Newsom’s proposal, even if unsuccessful long-term, could pay off for the governor in other ways.

“The gun initiative has given him another opportunity to reach out to voters outside of California, widening his national appeal for a potential White House run in the future and creating an opportunity to expand his database of political supporters before his time as governor ends in two years.”

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Data show that states with the lowest rates of gun deaths have stricter gun laws. California leaders often tout the state’s reduction in gun violence as a template for the rest of the U.S.

“Once 50% above average, California’s firearm homicide rate is now 33% below the rest of the United States,” Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta’s office wrote in a release for a recent report examining nine of the state’s Court Protection Orders that restrict access to firearms. If the firearm mortality rate in the rest of the United States had matched California’s between 2013-2022, there would have been nearly 140,000 fewer firearm-related deaths nationwide in that decade alone.”

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Have a great day, from the Essential California team

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