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Gov. Gavin Newsom announced plans Thursday to pursue a 28th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to curb gun violence — a daunting task and his most ambitious attempt yet to insert himself into the center of national politics.
“In this country, we do have the power — the power to change things, to reclaim our freedom from fear,” the California Democrat governor said in a recorded statement.
The amendment, Newsom said, would raise the federal minimum age to purchase a firearm from 18 to 21. It would also bar civilian purchases of assault weapons, mandate universal background checks to keep guns out of the hands of potentially dangerous people and institute a “reasonable” waiting period for all purchases, though he didn’t specify a time period.
The governor said the Second Amendment would remain unchanged and that his plan, which was first reported by Politico, would merely add “common sense” safety measures.
Greg Woods, a justice studies professor at San Jose State University, disputed that idea.
“It would absolutely reinterpret the Second Amendment to mean something other than what it currently says,” Woods said. “It would reverse it, undo it.”
Based on the history of amendments to the U.S. Constitution, Woods said it’s unlikely such an amendment would ever make the cut.
“It’s a very long and difficult process to amend the Constitution, and much of the authority would be vested outside of the Office of the Governor of California,” he said.
The Firearm Policy Coalition, a nonprofit gun rights group that has led legal challenges against California firearm restrictions, called Newsom’s announcement an attempt at getting “free press for his perpetual political campaigning.”
“That Newsom is willing to offer this route to impose his immoral policies on the entire nation is an ironic recognition that the tide of history has turned against him and a genuine admission that his failed policies cannot withstand court scrutiny,” the organization wrote in a statement.
California continues its efforts to restrict guns
The announcement was paid for by the governor’s Campaign for Democracy PAC, which he launched earlier this year to counter “rising authoritarianism” and regressive policies in Republican-led states.
Over the past two decades, leading California Democrats like Newsom have been eager to adopt restrictions on gun use. Despite having some of the strictest gun laws in the country, however, court challenges against them continue to mount.
Securing a U.S. constitutional amendment would guarantee states the ability to enact such laws.
NEW: I’m proposing the 28th Amendment to the United States Constitution to help end our nation’s gun violence crisis.
The American people are sick of Congress’ inaction.
The 28th will enshrine 4 widely supported gun safety freedoms -- while leaving the 2nd Amendment intact:
— Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) June 8, 2023
Adding a new constitutional amendment won’t be easy
Newsom acknowledged in the video that such an effort would be difficult. An amendment can be proposed by Congress with a two-thirds majority vote in both the House and Senate or by a constitutional convention called by two-thirds of the state legislatures. None of the current 27 amendments have been added by convention.
“This fight won’t be easy, and it certainly won’t be fast,” he said.
It was not immediately clear Thursday morning whether Newsom had secured support from other states before unveiling his plan.
Newsom said he was working with California lawmakers to be the first state to call for the convention.
Sen. Aisha Wahab, who will be introducing a resolution on the matter, called Newsom a “man of action.”
“Governor Gavin Newsom has the backbone to actually do something about the gun fetish culture around weapons of war, and tackle the relentless problem of gun violence and mass shootings,” Wahab said in a statement.
Assembly Republican Leader James Gallagher, Yuba City, disagreed. He called Newsom’s proposal a “poorly thought out, attention-seeking stunt.”
“If Newsom is this disinterested in leading California, he should let the Lieutenant Governor take over so he’ll be free to chase the national spotlight full-time,” Gallagher said in a statement.
California lawmakers have already introduced a handful of new bills this legislative cycle to further restrict guns in the Golden State.
The most notable, Senate Bill 2 by Sen. Anthony Portantino, D-Burbank, would update the state’s concealed carry licensing process, add new age restrictions, impose strict gun storage and training mandates and limit where permit holders could carry firearms in public.
It’s the second attempt at shoring up California’s concealed carry gun law after a June 2022 U.S. Supreme Court decision struck down key provisions.