It’s too early to tell whether Governor Gavin Newsom’s “from the bottom up” call for a constitutional convention on gun safety will actually happen. While the California Assembly last week gave final approval to Senate Joint Resolution 7, now 33 other states must do something similar. It’s a tall order. SJR 7, sponsored by Newsom, calls for the first constitutional convention since the document was ratified in 1789. According to the governor’s office, it would amend the U.S. Constitution with a Right to Safety. That amendment would include: raising the minimum age to buy a gun from 18 to 21; mandating universal background checks; instituting a waiting period for all gun purchases; and banning the sale of assault weapons and other weapons of war to civilians.
During a hastily arranged Zoom call September 15, Newsom, who was in New York City for Climate Week events, spoke to more than 1,000 people who logged on, many from other states.
“We proved it could be done,” Newsom said of the Legislature passing his resolution. “Now, we just need 33 other states.” He encouraged listeners outside of California to reach out to their elected representatives to pass similar measures. “Find a legislative leader — or the executive branch — and do the same thing,” he said. “The founders of our great nation gave us the power to change the Constitution. They don’t know the power of us.”
Getting more than 30 other states to also call for a constitutional convention is a daunting undertaking, and one that is unlikely to happen soon, especially given the polarization in the country right now. Newsom said he’s in it for the long haul. He mentioned on the call how last year police officers in Uvalde, Texas stood outside the school, scared to confront the gunman because he had more firepower than they did. “This is pro-law enforcement,” Newsom said of the proposed amendment.
The governor saved most of his ire for Republican-appointed federal judges, who have ruled against gun safety laws, and the U.S. Supreme Court, which last year in a 6-3 decision in New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Buren struck down that state’s concealed-carry law and said that Americans have the right to carry a firearm in public for self-defense. Previously, people had to show “proper cause” for a concealed-carry license.
Don’t get us wrong — we’re fed up with mass shootings and other gun violence in this country that has killed so many. LGBTQs gathered at nightclubs, intimate partner victims, kids and teachers getting shot at schools, employees gunned down in the workplace, and people killed in houses of worship represent some of the tens of thousands killed every year in shooting incidents. And we agree with Newsom that “Gun safety saves lives. Period. Full stop.” But we have real reservations about a constitutional convention because it could open the floodgates to all sorts of anti-LGBTQ shenanigans. Newsom didn’t address these possibilities, but other political leaders have.
Gay state Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) has for months spoken out against this route to change gun laws. Wiener abstained from a Senate committee vote on SJR 7 last month, because he could not support the measure for the uncertainty of what a constitutional convention could look like.
“There’s nothing in the Constitution that says a convention needs to be limited to one topic,” Wiener said, according to KCRA-TV. “We know the same extremists that have completely rewritten the Second Amendment would also like to rewrite reproductive health access, LGBTQ rights. They want to get rid of separation of church and state. They want to undermine voting rights.” Wiener, of course, has a 0% rating from the National Rifle Association and would go further on some of the proposed gun safety items.
Newsom has said a constitutional convention would be limited to one topic, but some legal experts dispute that and have mentioned the concerns Wiener enumerated. The resolution’s text does include a paragraph that would invalidate it if the constitutional convention goes into other subject areas. “Resolved, That this application is for a limited constitutional convention and does not grant Congress the authority to call a constitutional convention for any purpose other than those set forth herein and that this application shall be void if ever used at any stage to consider any constitutional amendments on subjects other than those specified herein …,” SJR 7 states.
But Wiener and others are right to remain concerned. And we certainly can envision a scenario whereby those opposed to voting rights or LGBTQ rights would attempt to undermine a gun-focused constitutional convention, should one take place. One only has to look at what the right-wing has done on myriad issues to realize that it cannot be trusted. Conservatives attempt to cloak anti-trans legislation with “parents’ rights” language while seeking to forcibly out trans and nonbinary kids. They support bathroom bills by stating trans people would act as predators in women’s restrooms without any evidence. In short, the hypocrisy of the Republican Party knows no bounds.
Newsom will keep fighting for his constitutional convention. But as the 2024 election year approaches, we think a better focus would be on Democrats retaking control in the House, maintaining control in the U.S. Senate, and reelecting President Joe Biden, who continues to appoint federal judges who are not hard-right extremists.
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