California governor proposes constitutional amendment on guns

Gun Rights

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California Gov. Gavin Newsom proposed Thursday adding a 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which he said will address the country’s gun violence crisis.

The amendment would raise the minimum age to purchase a gun from 18 to 21, mandate universal background checks, institute a reasonable waiting period for all gun purchases and bar civilians from purchasing assault weapons, according to a statement from the governor’s office.

“This will guarantee states as well the ability to enact common sense gun safety laws, while leaving the Second Amendment intact, and respecting America’s gun owning tradition,” Newsom said in a video statement. “The 28th Amendment locks in the common sense constitutional protections that Democrats, Republicans, Independents and gun owners overwhelmingly support and ensures NRA-owned politicians can never strip those protections away.”

Six in 10 Americans, including four in 10 gun owners, said controlling gun violence is more important than protecting gun rights – the highest percentage in a decade – according to a national poll released last month.

Newsom told Politico and NBC the move was inspired in part by the rollback of gun safety measures by the courts.

The move comes amid speculation that Newsom may run for president, which grew after he won a second term as governor, which ends in 2026, and dropped $10 million on a new political action committee. Newsom has denied planning to run in 2024 or 2028, saying he supports President Joe Biden and wants Vice President Kamala Harris, a fellow Californian, to be president.

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Proposal sparks criticism from gun groups

The move has drawn opposition from gun-ownership groups. A spokesperson for The National Rifle Association said in a statement to USA TODAY that the majority of Americans reject Newsom’s “California-style gun control.”  

“Newsom’s latest publicly stunt once again shows that his unhinged contempt for the right to self-defense has no bounds,” the statement said. “California is a beacon for violence because of Newsom’s embrace of policies that champion the criminal and penalize the law-abiding.”

Erich Pratt, senior vice president of Gun Owners of America said “Newsom’s proposals will fail miserably to control crime.”

“It’s a foreign concept to wealthy anti-gun political elites like Mr. Newsom that the common people have a right to possess arms for self-defense and repelling government tyranny, so it’s no surprise to us that he hopes to butcher that right with a new Constitutional amendment,” he said in a statement to USA TODAY.

Adding Constitutional amendment ‘won’t be easy’

Adding a constitutional amendment requires either a two-thirds majority vote by both houses of Congress or a constitutional convention convened by two-thirds of State legislatures, according to Thomas Donnelly, chief content officer at the National Constitution Center. None of the 27 amendments to the Constitution have been proposed by a convention and the last time the Constitution was amended was in 1992, he said.

Three-fourths of the states must ratify the proposed amendment in order for it to become part of the Constitution, Donnelly said. Donnelly declined to speculate on the likelihood of Newsom’s success. But he said the process is “meant to be difficult.”

“The founders really wanted to limit new amendments to those that can actually secure the broad support of the American people, so for them, they would have said ‘an idea that would transcend faction,'” he said. “Today, we would say it’s often something that’s going to transcend partisan politics.”

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Given the impact of the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling on gun control last year, “something like a Constitutional amendment may seem absolutely necessary,” according to Michael Waldman, president and CEO of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law.

Waldman, author of “The Supermajority: How the Supreme Court Divided the Country,” called Newsom’s approach, which leaves the Second Amendment intact but allows for “common sense gun laws” that may be palatable to some gun rights supporters, creative and interesting. He said Newsom’s amendment “is not likely to happen, but it’s important to think about it.”

“Constitutional amendments seem completely impossible to do until suddenly they seem doable, and that’s how it’s worked all throughout our history,” Waldman said. “If the Court’s doctrine is so misguided and the carnage on the streets is so undeniable, you might get a surprising outcome.”

Newsom acknowledged how challenging the process would be, saying “this fight won’t be easy, and it certainly won’t be fast.”

California State Sen. Aisha Wahab and Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer will introduce a joint resolution to make California the first state to call for a convention, also called an Article V Convention or amendatory convention, according to the governor’s statement.

Newsom will then work with “grassroots supporters, elected and civic leaders, and broad and diverse coalitions across the nation” to get similar resolutions passed in the 33 other states required to convene the convention, the statement said.

“California will be the first but that’s just the beginning,” Newsom said in a statement.

Contributing: The Associated Press; Grace Hauck, USA TODAY

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