Will Newsom take a pass on bill raising taxes for gun, ammo purchases?

AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli

Ordinarily, there wouldn’t be any question about whether or not California Gov. Gavin Newsom is going to support an anti-gun measure than ends up on his desk, but there’s at least an outside chance that one of the dozen gun control bills recently approved by the legislature won’t receive his signature.

The measure in question is AB 28, which would add an 11% excise tax for every purchase of firearms and ammunition in the state, with the money ostensibly going to fund “anti-violence programs”. Gun control advocates in California concerned enough about what Newsom will do that they’re publicly urging the governor to sign the bill into law, with bill sponsor Jesse Gabriel joining activists from Moms Demand Action and other anti-gun groups on the steps of the state capitol on Thursday to apply some pressure to the governor.

Why would Newsom, who’s never met a gun control measure he didn’t like, be reticent to endorse a new punitive tax on the exercise of our Second Amendment rights? As POLITICO reports, it’s not because the governor has had a change of heart about the right to keep and bear arms.

Ordinarily, it’s a foregone conclusion that Newsom will sign progressive gun-safety measures that make it to his desk. For example, Newsom said he would sign Senate Bill 2, state Sen. Anthony Portantino’s bill to tighten concealed-carry laws, months before lawmakers sent it to him this month.

The Democratic governor, considered a future presidential contender, is typically wary of signing new taxes into law. And he’s been quiet about the gun tax measure — a fact that has made advocate groups anxious.

Gun violence survivors and safety advocates rallied Thursday on the steps of the Capitol, urging Newsom to sign AB 28. The bill would create an 11 percent tax on firearms and ammunition sales, generating an estimated $159 million annually for school safety and violence prevention programs.

“He’s just been such a vocal leader on this issue,” Gabriel said at the rally. “This would just be so consistent with everything that he’s talked about and everything that he’s stood for.”

A day before the rally, some of the largest national gun violence prevention groups — including the Giffords Center for Violence Intervention, Everytown for Gun Safety and March for Our Lives — sent Newsom a letter calling the bill a “top priority for our organizations and supporters.”

Newsom has until October 14th to make his decision, and if I had to make a prediction I’d say that he’ll ultimately put pen to paper and impose that tax on lawful gun owners, who already have to pay a background check fee when they’re purchasing ammunition in the state. But he might be using AB 28 as a bargaining chip with the gun control lobby, which hasn’t exactly rallied around his call for a 28th Amendment that would enshrine an “assault weapons” ban, prohibitions on gun sales for young adults, mandatory waiting periods, and “universal” background checks into the U.S. Constitution through an Article V convention.

As POLITICO noted, “[g]un safety groups have embraced Newsom, but their energy has been more focused on more incremental proposals. His constitutional push is widely seen as a long shot.” The lack of support for Newsom’s proposed constitutional amendment gives him a bargaining chip when it comes to AB 28, and he may be looking for a quid pro quo from groups like Everytown and Giffords; back the call for a constitutional amendment and he’ll go along with a tax increase on gun owners.

I’m less convinced by the theory that Newsom may genuinely be hesitant to sign AB 28 over concerns that it would damage his future political prospects, including a run at the White House.

Why would Newsom be any less comfortable signing a tax hike on the exercise of a constitutionally-protected right than signing a bill that turns most publicly accessible places in California into “gun-free zones”? AB 28 is hardly the only gun control bill approved by the legislature this year that’s an affront to our Second Amendment rights, after all. SB 2 is even more blatantly unconstitutional than AB 28, but Newsom declared months ago that he’s willing and ready to enshrine the bill’s restrictions on the right to carry into law.

I don’t see Newsom’s silence as discomfort over the content of AB 28. I think it’s more likely a strategy to get something from the gun control lobby in exchange for his support. If you want a hint about what Newsom will end up doing, I’d say keep an eye on the social media feeds from outfits like Everytown and Moms Demand Action. If they start touting the benefits of an Article V convention, then Newsom has likely struck a deal. If they remain silent about his proposed amendment Newsom may still end up signing AB 28 into law, but my guess is that the odds will increase exponentially if the gun control lobby is willing to get behind his anti-gun amendment.