Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-CA) proposed a 28th Amendment to the Constitution to restrict gun ownership in a move that has lawmakers debating the future of gun control in the United States.
While some Democrats have praised the bid, calling the amendment a necessity to address the gun violence epidemic through reasonable control measures, other left-of-center groups have opposed the proposal.
Newsom announced plans to push for the 28th Amendment on June 8, outlining four gun control measures: raising the minimum age to buy a firearm to 21, mandating universal background checks, instituting a “reasonable” waiting period for all gun purchases, and banning rifles “that serve no other purpose than to kill as many people as possible in a short amount of time.”
How will Newsom attempt to amend the Constitution?
The process to enshrine the 28th Amendment into the Constitution can be done in one of two ways.
The first method is through a two-thirds vote in both chambers of Congress, which is the most common measure and has been used in all 27 amendments made to the Constitution. The second way, which has never been achieved, is by calling a constitutional convention by two-thirds of the state legislatures.
“That is the method that Gavin Newsom has suggested,” Robert Schapiro, dean of the University of San Diego’s School of Law, told the Washington Examiner. “It’s never been used before.”
Newsom’s plan to use this method has “led to some wariness,” Schapiro said, because of the numerous unanswered questions about what a convention would look like.
“Could the convention be limited to only certain items, or would it be able to consider any possible amendments?” Schapiro proposed.
Republicans show opposition
Republican leaders have contested Newsom’s proposal on several grounds, with some state lawmakers saying the governor has no chance of pushing the amendment through.
“We have background checks in California, and I think that has helped to make sure people who are dangerous or are felons don’t have weapons, but even having that, we still have gun violence on our streets,” Assembly Republican Minority Leader James Gallagher told KCRA 3 last week. “So to act like that’s the complete answer to the problem, it’s not right; it’s not correct.”
Gallagher called the measure a “political stunt,” adding the 28th Amendment proposal is a distraction from the Democratic governor’s “failures in California.”
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) has refused to give momentum to legislation banning assault-style weapons, telling reporters he’d like “to see all the facts; we need to get the facts” following a shooting in Nashville, Tennessee, in March in which six people were killed at a Christian elementary school.
McCarthy called out Newsom on Twitter regarding the amendment proposal, saying, “The 2nd Amendment already exists—we don’t need a 28th. But what we do need is for Presidential aspirants to stop pushing their extreme positions nationally.”
“The lawmakers appear to have in mind that they would allow some regulations of the right without eliminating the right entirely,” Michael Rappaport, a professor at the University of San Diego School of Law, told the Washington Examiner.
The National Rifle Association attacked Newsom’s proposal for a 28th Amendment, calling California “a beacon for violence” and adding that the governor’s policies “champion the criminal and penalize the law-abiding.”
“That is why the majority of Americans rightfully reject his California-style gun control,” the NRA tweeted.
Democrats show varying reactions
Many Democratic lawmakers and leaders in the Golden State favor Newsom’s proposal, but some have expressed concern about the reality of such a ban.
“I find it really frustrating as a liberal because we all know this is never gonna happen,” Lara Smith, communications director and spokeswoman of the Liberal Gun Club, told Fox. “I think it’s grandstanding, and I find it offensive.”
Smith, who seeks to be a voice for left-leaning gun owners, said she encourages Newsom to “start focusing on the real issues and real solutions,” pointing to the root cause of “suicide, homicide, and mass shootings.”
Multiple state lawmakers have welcomed the proposal, calling on the federal government to take a stance on gun violence.
“I have been calling for the federal government to enact common-sense gun laws for years, and they’ve been unable or unwilling to make meaningful change thus far,” California Democratic Assemblyman Mike Gipson said in a statement. “Too many of our brothers, sisters, fathers, mothers, and children have been gunned down due to senseless gun violence.”
Gipson was a leader in convening a working group to address gun violence prevention and has a track record of focusing on gun control bills, having most recently attempted to pass legislation to hold reckless gun owners accountable in January.
“With the radicalization of the Supreme Court having a detrimental impact on the public safety of all Americans as it systematically dismantles common sense gun legislation, we must look at a constitutional amendment to both ban assault weapons and to protect the sanctity of California’s ability to regulate firearms and keep our citizens safe,” state Sen. Anthony Portantino, a Democrat, said in a press release.
What obstacles will Newsom’s proposal face?
Despite support from lawmakers in his state and Democrats broadly, the two-thirds requirement is one that will be difficult for Newsom to overcome.
“I think part of the issue is here, the United States Constitution is extremely hard to amend,” Schapiro said. “I think if you look around the world, the United States Constitution is at least one of the most difficult constitutions to amend.”
Less than 20 years ago, the Supreme Court ruled, in the landmark case of District of Columbia v. Heller, that the Second Amendment guarantees the individual right to keep and bear arms for lawful uses.
The court decision was a major development for Second Amendment rights. The ruling states, “The Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home.”
“I think what we see is this concern about the interpretation of the Constitution by the current Supreme Court creating significant social problems that are then difficult for the political system to address,” Schapiro said, flagging the court’s 2008 decision as a fairly recent interruption of the Second Amendment.
California is known for having some of the nation’s strictest gun laws, ranking among one of the lowest rates of firearm mortality by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, with nine gun deaths per 100,000 people in 2021. Gun safety is a key issue for Newsom and the Democratic Party and is expected to be a divisive topic as the 2024 elections near.
“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 his proposal.