A year after Newsom called for constitutional amendment on gun safety, no other states have joined him

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By Yosi Yahoudai
Founder and Managing Partner

SACRAMENTO — 

On NBC’s “Today” show last June, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a proposal that seemed politically impossible from the start: Convincing two-thirds of state legislatures in America to officially call for a constitutional convention to adopt national gun safety laws.

Newsom didn’t see it that way.

“It’s possible because their constituency demands it,” Newsom said when the interviewer pointed out that more than half the states are controlled by Republicans who generally oppose gun restrictions.

One year later, no other state has joined Newsom’s fight.

The inability to advance the gun safety proposal beyond California, even in other Democratic-controlled states, suggests that — so far at least — Newsom’s plan was more flash than substance.

The governor’s pitch inspired a round of media coverage last year that elevated his national profile as a Democrat trying to do something about mass shootings and other gun violence. Newsom pointed to findings of a Fox News Poll that found overwhelming voter support for the restrictions.

The gun initiative has given him another opportunity to reach out to voters outside of California, widening his national appeal for a potential White House run in the future and creating an opportunity to expand his database of political supporters before his time as governor ends in two years.

Yet Newsom must still contend with the stubborn politics of the 2nd Amendment. Many lawmakers at the national and state level are reluctant to buck a powerful gun lobby and risk being accused of trying to dilute the constitutional right to bear arms.

The governor said he expected the slow progress, adding that support for a constitutional amendment on gun control could take 20 years to catch on.

“Come on, no one was naive about this,” Newsom said in a recent interview with The Times. “This has been done before, but not recently. It will have its fits and starts. It will have its champions and will have its setbacks.”

So far, the setbacks have been easier to spot.

Newsom’s plan would require two-thirds of states to pass resolutions supporting a constitutional convention. Through the convention, new federal gun safety measures would have to be ratified by three-fourths of state legislatures. Newsom is calling for states to pass an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that requires universal background checks on gun purchases and raises the minimum age to purchase a firearm from 18 to 21. The governor wants the gathering of states to also result in a “reasonable waiting” period for all gun purchases and to prohibit the sale of assault weapons to the public.

California lawmakers passed a resolution in September calling for a constitutional convention to consider the proposal.

The governor and his political aides began reaching out to other states after the California Legislature acted, hoping to find lawmakers around the country with compelling personal stories to lead the effort.

Some states have part-time Legislatures, which meet for only a few months annually or every other year, and lawmakers told Newsom’s aides it wasn’t feasible to pass a resolution this year, an advisor to the governor said. In other states, legislators who advocate for gun control had already committed to their bill packages for 2024.

“And others specifically said, ‘Not right now,’ I mean, there’s electoral issues,” Newsom said.

Newsom said he’s had “dozens of conversations,” but the governor and his political staff declined to name any states or individuals they have spoken with.

He said he’s discussed the constitutional amendment in every state he’s visited through his Campaign for Democracy, a political action committee that he formed to raise money for Democrats and to fight Republicans nationally in the 2024 election.

“So we’re talking to legislative leaders in all those red states,” Newsom said.

Last year, a few weeks after launching his call for the constitutional convention, Newsom went to Idaho to meet with Democrats and fund-raise for Biden’s reelection through his political action committee.

Democrat Melissa Winthrow, the minority leader in the Idaho state Senate, said she never heard from the California governor.

“No, I have not spoken to Gov. Newsom,” Winthrow said. “I’m not aware of if he’s been in communication with anybody. I have not.”

Winthrow doesn’t see how Newsom’s proposal has a chance of passing in Idaho.

“This is a supermajority red state, probably one of the most conservative in the country, with the strictest abortion bans and so forth,” she said. “So you’re not going to see any movement to restrict anything with firearms.”

Winthrow said she’s not sure she could support Newsom’s resolution because if a convention ever took place, her state would be represented by Republicans who would gut any amendment to restrict guns. In California, some Democrats declined to back the measure after legal scholars warned that states might be able to take up other issues beyond the scope of Newsom’s gun amendment at a constitutional convention.

There also are political realities in states like Idaho, where gun culture is so ingrained that Democrats largely avoid campaigning on the issue. Winthrow has introduced legislation to keep firearms from people convicted of domestic abuse and another bill to keep firearms from convicted pedophiles. Both failed.

She can’t imagine a scenario where Newsom’s proposal gains traction.

“There’s just no way the state is going to agree to that. It just isn’t going to happen. As I’ve described, the political climate here is such that it just wouldn’t even be on the table,” Winthrow said. “They would laugh.”

Newsom said he knew his proposal might not play well in some GOP-controlled states. But there are no signs it’s taken off in blue states either.

Despite Newsom’s cooperation with the Democratic leaders of other West Coast states on abortion access and curbing climate change, neither Oregon nor Washington have picked up the mantle of his gun control amendment.

“There has been no talk here of doing something similar,” said Aaron Wasser, a spokesman for Washington state Senate Democrats.

Washington House Speaker Laurie Jinkins “has not had any discussions with Gov. Newsom about this topic,” said her spokesperson Jen Waldref.

“This is not a concept that has been considered by the Oregon Legislature,” said Lucas Bezerra, spokesman for Oregon House Democrats.

Newsom did not directly answer questions about whether a nationwide campaign to restrict guns could hurt Biden’s reelection bid if Republicans responded by claiming Democrats are out to take away firearms. The governor said other issues, such as inflation, the cost of living and the economy were more top of mind to voters.

Newsom reiterated that his proposal would preserve the right of Americans to bear arms and focus strictly on gun safety that most Americans support. Newsom was inspired by inaction in Congress and California’s own efforts to pass gun control laws that have been struck down by federal courts.

“This was done very thoughtfully in the context of where things actually are, and where the American people are in every state,” Newsom said.

Newsom’s political advisor said lawmakers in many states are focused on their own elections or the presidential race this year, forcing the governor’s team to reevaluate their strategy and timetable.

Newsom’s team shifted focus to building support on the local level this year before ramping up their effort in 2025.

“Since California passed the amendment last year, the campaign has been building a grassroots army of activists who will support a national right to safety in states across the country and working with legislators on bill introductions for 2025 when states begin a new legislative session,” said Nathan Click, a spokesperson for Newsom.

Click said the campaign has “signed up over a million Americans to support the right to safety in their states.” More than 1,500 have completed volunteer training to help in their states and 10,000 volunteers will be trained by early 2025 when the bill introductions begin, he said.

Newsom’s Campaign for Democracy, his national political committee, sent out an email to its fundraising list in early May seeking volunteers.

The goal for volunteers laid out in the email was two-fold: To turn out voters across the country who will elect Democrats and get the Right to Safety amendment introduced in more states next year.

But the odds of Newsom building a successful movement are slim, because it’s so difficult to amend the Constitution, said University of Texas law school professor Sanford Levinson.

“He’s swimming upstream in terms of trying to persuade people that a constitutional amendment regarding guns is going to be a very fruitful way of spending their time,” Levinson said.

“No knowledgeable person about contemporary politics could really believe that that proposal is going to take off nationally with other state legislatures.”

Newsom’s pitch echoes a similar move the governor of Texas once made from the opposite end of the political spectrum.

In 2016, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott called for a convention of the states to make nine amendments to the U.S. constitution. They included a slew of conservative goals to limit federal power and require a balanced federal budget, which Abbott detailed in a 92-page plan.

The Texas Legislature passed the resolution the next year. But not much happened after that.

“He obviously thought that it might give him some political mileage,” Levinson said. “And it clearly didn’t.”

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About the Author
Yosi Yahoudai is a founder and the managing partner of J&Y. His practice is comprised primarily of cases involving automobile and motorcycle accidents, but he also represents people in premises liability lawsuits, including suits alleging dangerous conditions of public property, third-party criminal conduct, and intentional torts. He also has expertise in cases involving product defects, dog bites, elder abuse, and sexual assault. He earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of California and is admitted to practice in all California State Courts, and the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. If you have any questions about this article, you can contact Yosi by clicking here.