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Firearms groups challenge California gun law modeled after Texas abortion ban

Sept. 28, 2022 Updated Wed., Sept. 28, 2022 at 8:05 p.m.

People line up outside Martin Retting store in Culver City, California, which sells sporting goods and collectibles including guns and knives, on March 15, 2020.  (Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
People line up outside Martin Retting store in Culver City, California, which sells sporting goods and collectibles including guns and knives, on March 15, 2020. (Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times/TNS)
By Christian Martinez Los Angeles Times

Firearms groups have filed a widely anticipated legal challenge against a California gun law modeled after Texas’ vigilante antiabortion legislation.

Gov. Gavin Newsom called out the Texas law in July when he signed Senate Bill 1327, which allows private citizens to sue the makers and distributors of firearms that are banned in California. The lawsuit filed Monday targets a provision – modeled after the Texas legislation – that requires those challenging the laws to pay legal fees if the challenge fails.

Section 1021.11 of the Code of Civil Procedure, added by SB 1327, would make attorneys and plaintiffs seeking to challenge gun laws “jointly and severally liable to pay the attorney’s fees and costs of the prevailing party.”

Plaintiffs, including San Diego firearms dealer Gunfighter Tactical, the San Diego County Gun Owners PAC and the Second Amendment Foundation, allege in their suit the statute regarding fees is unconstitutional and “seeks to suppress firearms-related litigation.”

Newsom had called for the legislation after the passage of a Texas law that allowed citizens to sue anyone who aids and abets abortions.

“If they are going to use this framework to put women’s lives at risk, we are going to use it to save people’s lives here in the state of California,” Newsom said when he signed the bill. “That’s the spirit, the principle, behind this law.”

The statute would take effect Jan. 1.

In the complaint, the plaintiffs wrote they are challenging California’s ban on assault weapons.

“Section 1021.11, however, forces Plaintiffs to litigate their assault-weapons challenge under the threat of a potentially ruinous fee award,” the plaintiffs said.

The plaintiffs allege the provision on legal fees violates the First Amendment by singling out “firearms advocates’ protected activity and seeks to choke off their access to the courts.”

“California adopted this fee-shifting scheme as a response to – and apparently in retaliation for – a similar fee-shifting scheme that Texas enacted in connection with abortion regulations,” plaintiffs said . “But tit-for-tat is not a rational or permissible justification for the classifications in this case.”

SB 1327 was expected to draw numerous challenges from gun rights advocates after it was passed. The law would be invalidated if the Texas abortion law it is modeled after is also nulled.

After the Supreme Court declined to block Texas’ law in a 5-4 decision in December, some gun rights advocates worried Texas-style methods could be turned against firearms.

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