California AG race could hinge on gun control

Democrat Rob Bonta has only been California’s Attorney General for a little more than a year, but he’s gunning for a full four-year term after being tapped for the post by Gov. Gavin Newsom after then-AG Xavier Becerra was confirmed as Joe Biden’s Secretary of Health and Human Services.

Given the spiraling rates of violent crime in many California cities, public safety is expected to be a big issue in this year’s elections, but as San Francisco Chronicle political columnist Joe Garofoli points out in a new column, the Republicans vying to replace Bonta as the state’s top cop have a starkly different take on how to make the state a safer place compared to Bonta’s anti-gun to-do list.

Because Bonta doesn’t have a lengthy record as California’s top cop in the year since Gov. Gavin Newsom appointed him to replace Xavier Becerra, his opponents are trying to tie him to two controversial, high-profile, progressive district attorneys whom Bonta has supported — San Francisco’s Chesa Boudin and Los Angeles’ George Gascón.

It’s not hard to imagine why. For the second time since he took office, Gascón’s opponents are gathering signatures to try to recall him, and Boudin will actually face a recall on June 7, the same day as California’s statewide primary. It is not looking good for Boudin, according to a poll of 800 likely voters out last week, commissioned by those who want to boot Boudin. It found that 68% want to recall the first-term district attorney, who was elected in 2019.

That shouldn’t hurt Bonta in the primary. As the only Democrat on the June ballot, he will probably be one of the two candidates who advance to the general election in November. That will leave the others — Republicans Nathan Hochman and Eric Early, and Republican-turned-independent Anne Marie Schubert — to battle for the other slot.

But they’re not aiming their jabs at one another for the most part. Instead, they’re focused on Bonta/Boudin/Gascón.

Given that even self-professed progressives are complaining about Boudin’s policies fueling crime, it’s smart for Republicans (and the one independent) to try to tie Bonta to the soft-on-crime policies of D.A.’s like Boudin and Gascon, especially when Bonta himself is adopting a strategy of blaming gun makers and federally licensed firearms retailers for California’s crime and not the individuals who are pulling the trigger.

“You can’t talk about rises in crime without talking about rises in gun violence,” Bonta said during a recent news conference. “In California, the increase that we have seen in our homicide rate is almost exclusively the result of gun violence.

“That is sickening. That’s disgusting. That’s unacceptable,” Bonta said.

He is backing two bills focused directly on gunmakers and sellers. One measure (SB1327) would enable Californians to sue anyone who manufactures, distributes, transports, imports into the state or sells assault weapons, .50 caliber Browning machine gun rifles or “ghost guns” — the untraceable weapons that can be purchased without a background check and assembled on their own.

The other bill (AB1594) would enable Californians or the attorney general to sue gunmakers and distributors when crimes are committed using their weapons. It is intentionally modeled after the new Texas law that bans abortions after six weeks and permits individuals to sue clinics and providers.

While Bonta’s leaning in to these latest anti-gun proposals, his opponents should be reminding Californians of all of the other gun control laws that are already in place. If waiting periods, microstamping, bans on “assault weapons” and “high capacity” magazines, universal background checks on firearms, background checks on ammunition, red flag laws, bans on unserialized firearms, and the state’s “may issue” carry laws haven’t been able to curb crime, then why would anyone expect Bonta’s favored bills to make a difference?

I’d argue that the bills backed by Bonta aren’t meant to seriously address violent crime in the first place. They’re culture war bills designed as a response to Texas’ anti-abortion law; a law which, by the way, apparently hasn’t stopped that many Texans from obtaining one.

Bonta’s opponents should be relentless in pointing out that his pet legislation would do nothing to ensure that violent criminals face consequences for their actions and would only make it harder for law-abiding residents to exercise their Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms in self-defense. It’s going to be hard to defeat a Democrat running for statewide office in uber-liberal California, but Bonta has left himself vulnerable by making the firearms industry his biggest enemy at a time when voters are looking to get tough on criminals and are ready to reject the soft-on-crime approach championed by Bonta and his fellow progressive prosecutors.