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California Considers Lawsuits Against Citizens Over Illegal Guns

CA GUN LAWS - As Democratic elected officials rush to toughen gun laws in the wake of Sunday’s mass shooting in Sacramento that left six dead and 12 injured,

Republicans are accusing them of refusing to acknowledge the role their own policies have played in rising rates of gun violence.

On Tuesday, a key legislative committee voted 8-1 to advance a bill — sponsored by Gov. Gavin Newsom and Attorney General Rob Bonta — that co-opts the structure of Texas’ abortion ban by giving private citizens the right to sue manufacturers, sellers and distributors of illegal assault weapons, “ghost” guns and certain other firearms and to collect at least $10,000 in civil damages per weapon. 

State Sen. Bob Hertzberg, the Van Nuys Democrat who authored the bill, noted “it may not be the perfect solution” — among other things, it would be invalidated if the U.S. Supreme Court were to strike down the Texas law — but said California should “use every tool available to try and reduce this extraordinary and horrible epidemic of gun violence.” 

  • The bill progressed the same day that Sacramento police arrested Smiley Martin — one of three suspects taken into custody in connection with the mass shooting — on charges including possession of a stolen handgun converted into a fully automatic weapon. Martin, his brother Dandrae Martin, and Daviyonne Dawson were all charged with possessing a firearm despite being prohibited from having one. Dawson was released Tuesday after posting $500,000 bail. 
  • Also Tuesday, a stunning Sacramento Bee report found that Smiley Martin in February won early release from a 10-year prison sentence for domestic violence and assault with great bodily injury. The ruling from the Board of Parole Hearings — part of the Newsom administration — came despite strong opposition from Sacramento County District Attorney Anne Marie Schubert’s office, which warned the board that “if he is released early, he will continue to break the law.”
  • That will likely add fuel to what’s expected to be an already intense attorney general race: Schubert, a Republican-turned-independent, is one of Bonta’s main challengers for the role of California’s top cop. She’s also one of 44 district attorneys suing the Newsom administration over proposed rule changes that she says could result in the early release of thousands of violent offenders.
  • Assembly Republican Leader James Gallagher of Yuba City: Smiley Martin “was a violent felon with a long rap sheet who should have been in prison. If he was, this tragedy might have been avoided. If this violence a few blocks from the Capitol doesn’t serve as a wake-up call to the policymakers in this building, I don’t know what will.”

Meanwhile, two other high-profile crime-related bills failed Tuesday to pass key committees.

  • Before it could receive a hearing, Democratic Assemblymember Al Muratsuchi of Torrance pulled his bill to toughen aspects of Proposition 47 — a 2014 ballot measure that reduced penalties for certain theft and drug offenses — and establish diversion and job training programs for some offenders. In a statement, Muratsuchi told me “the Assembly Public Safety Committee proposed to gut the bill to make it meaningless.” 
  • And GOP state Sen. Shannon Grove of Bakersfield’s bill to amend California penal code by defining human trafficking as a serious and violent felony failed on a 2-1 vote to pass out of the Senate Public Safety Committee.

As if there wasn’t enough going on in California on Tuesday, it also marked the last day for voters to cast or mail in ballots in four special elections prompted by a “Great Resignation” of lawmakers

In other Tuesday election news: San Francisco Mayor London Breed endorsed Supervisor Matt Haney over former Supervisor David Campos for the state Assembly seat David Chiu vacated to become city attorney. Haney and Campos will battle for the seat in an April 19 runoff election. 

  1. How oversight reshaped Oakland police

How did the Oakland Police Department become a progressive model for law enforcement agencies across California — one that sustains complaints against its officers at a higher rate than any other major law enforcement entity apart from the state Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation?

As CalMatters’ Nigel Duara reports in this beautifully written piece, the story goes back to the late 1990s, when the police departments in Oakland and Los Angeles were rocked by unrelated but similar scandals. Police gang task forces in each city were accused of planting drugs, beating suspects and — in the case of the LAPD — shooting people. But the policies resulting from those scandals played out very differently, data show: While the Oakland Police Department sustained 11.2% of complaints against its officers from 2016 to 2020, the LAPD sustained just 5.2% of complaints during that same period, more than two percentage points below state average.

  • There’s been some fallout from the increased oversight in Oakland: Rank-and-file police officers are leaving the department in higher numbers.
  • Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf told Nigel“I’ve been doing some exit interviews with officers that are choosing to go to other departments, and what I tell them is the Oakland way is going to be the American way any minute now.” 
  1. Reports paint dire climate future

From CalMatters environment reporter Julie Cart: In an alarming and remarkably comprehensive series of reportssent to lawmakers on Tuesday, the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office detailed the broad public health impacts and economic disruptions climate change has wrought and could wreak on California. Although the six analysesdidn’t make legislative recommendations, nor did they pull any punches in laying out a future plagued by increasing wildfires, rising seas, extreme heat, poor air quality and increasingly at-risk vulnerable populations. Among the current and expected impacts of a changing climate:

  • Wildfires, heat and smoke will force more frequent school closures — disrupting education, child care and availability of free school lunches.
  • Housing, rail lines, bridges, power plants and other structures are vulnerable to rising seas and tides.“Between $8 billion and $10 billion of existing property in California is likely to be underwater by 2050, with an additional $6 billion to $10 billion at risk during high tide,” the office found. 
  • For example, in the San Francisco Bay Area alone, 13,000 existing housing units and 104,000 job spaces “will no longer be usable” because of sea rise over the next next 40 to 100 years. And up to two-thirds of Southern California beaches may become completely eroded by 2100. 
  • Extreme heat is projected to cause nine deaths per 100,000 people each year, “roughly equivalent to the 2019 annual mortality rate from automobile accidents in California.”
  • Project manager Rachel Ehlers said the reports aim to help lawmakers incorporate climate change in decisionmaking outside of traditionally environmental realms, including housing, health and education. For instance, would a new housing policy “have the potential to inadvertently worsen climate change impacts?” 

(Emily Hoeven writes the daily WhatMatters newsletter for CalMatters where this was published.)