At Townhall: Gavin Newsom Is Conceding He Has to Amend the Constitution

Jun 12, 2023 | op-ed

Dr. John Lott has a new op-ed in Townhall on Gavin Newsom’s new proposed constitutional amendment.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom is conceding that the U.S. Constitution needs to be amended before he can pass his gun control wish list. But he doesn’t have the votes. Democrats control only the governorship and state legislatures in 17 states — far short of the 38 states needed to ratify a constitutional amendment. Nor do they have the votes in Congress.

Newsom wants to raise the age of gun ownership to 21, impose background checks on private transfers of guns, require waiting periods for buying guns, and enact an assault weapon ban. 

California has the country’s strictest gun control laws, but it shouldn’t hold itself out as a model for the rest of the country to follow California’s per capita rate of mass public shootings has consistently exceeded the rate in the rest of the country. The rate is much lower in Texas, but gun control groups give the state an “F” grade. Since 2010, California’s mass public shooting rate per capita has been 43 percent higher than Texas’ and 29 percent higher than in the rest of the U.S. From 2020 on it has been even worse; California’s rate was 276 percent higher than Texas’ and 100 percent higher than the rest of the country. 

The main argument in favor of raising the gun ownership age is that 18, 19, and 20-year-olds commit firearm-related crimes at relatively high rates. That is true, but the issue is whether those who can legally buy a gun commit crimes. About 90 percent of murderers already have a violent criminal history and are already banned from buying a gun. Data show that young people who can pass background checks tend to be at least as law-abiding as older people. A ban only affects those who could otherwise pass a background check and legally buy a gun. 

Gun control advocates push federal background checks on the private transfer of guns to stop mass public shootings, but they wouldn’t have stopped even one mass public shooting in this century. They also claim that they have stopped 4 million dangerous people from buying a gun. But they should say that there were 4 million “initial denials.” A system that looks for roughly phonetically similar names (e.g., “Smith” and “Smythe”) and ignores middle names doesn’t allow for much accuracy. It is one thing to stop a felon from buying a gun. It is quite another to stop a law-abiding citizen from buying a gun because his name is similar to a felon’s. 

There is no reason for these mistakes. Private companies could never do employee background checks this way, and the errors overwhelmingly discriminate against black and Hispanic males.

We keep being told that there is 90+ percent support in polls for expanded background checks, but the support is a lot less solid than the media and gun control advocates would have you believe.  The Crime Prevention Research Center (CPRC), which I head, hired McLaughlin & Associates to survey 1,000 likely voters about their support for background checks on all gun sales or transfers. Likely voters expressed support for such a law by a whopping 86 percent – 11 percent margin, with strong support outweighing strongly opposition by 70 percent to 5 percent. All incomes, education levels, and demographics expressed support for such a law.

The survey asked two follow-up questions.

First: “These laws are called universal background checks. Let’s say a stalker is threatening a female friend of yours late on a Saturday night. She asks you if she can borrow your handgun until she has a chance to buy one. She is trained and has no criminal record. If you loaned her the gun, this law would make you a felon. Would you support or oppose this law?”

Respondents now opposed these background checks by a 44 percent – 42 percent margin. While Democrats, liberals, singles, those living in urban areas, and blacks still strongly supported these laws, they were opposed by Republicans, moderates, married people, people in non-urban areas, and whites. 

Second: “A Boy Scout troop is going for their skeet shooting badges. If you lend the Scoutmaster your shotguns, you would be committing a felony. Would you support or oppose this law?” 

Voters now opposed the policy by a 45 percent – 42 percent margin, with a similar demographic breakdown.

It’s important to let people know the implications of policies that may sound reasonable. Waiting periods are another measure that may seem helpful, as they provide a “cooling off period” in which people can think twice about their decision to buy a gun. But waiting periods also prevent people who need protection from obtaining it. Even short waiting periods of a few days are associated with higher rape rates. If women are being stalked or threatened, they may not be able to wait to protect themselves.

Assault rifle bans may also sound reasonable, but they are ineffective at best. You wouldn’t know it from following the news, but only 2 percent of murders are committed with any type of rifle. Less than 15 percent of mass public shootings are committed solely with any type of rifle. The federal assault weapon ban that was in effect from 1994 to 2004 produced no beneficial effectThe share of mass public shootings that used assault weapons fell while the federal ban was in effect from 1994 to 2004.

While Newsom’s constitutional amendment isn’t going anyplace, it still serves a useful purpose. It shows everyone that Democrats don’t believe in the right to self-defense and that they have lost the constitutional argument.

John R. Lott, Jr, “Gavin Newsom Is Conceding He Has to Amend the Constitution,” Townhall, June 12, 2023.