Will Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom be Once Again on the Winning Side of History?

Richard Rubin
Attorney Richard Rubin has taught at the University of San Francisco, Berkeley and Golden Gate University, is a regular columnist for the Marin Independent Journal and was Chair of the California Commonwealth Club Board of Governors, 2017-2019.

Once again we are confronted with a horrific episode involving multiple casualties and at least fourteen dead in a mass shooting at a San Bernardino center housing people with developmental disabilities. The investigation continues as this is being written.

And once again there will be loud outcries for sterner measures to keep lethal weapons from getting into the hands of wanton criminals and other societal misfits.

Still, calls for tougher gun control measures generally disappear soon after the latest tragedy involving a mass killing incident somewhere in the nation.

That may no longer be the case if Lt. Governor, Gavin Newsom, has his way.

His recent announcement that he will push for a ballot measure next November asking for expanded background checks for all firearms purchasers and tighter stolen gun disclosure regulations is bound to fuel fresh headlines.

These will come as Newsom gears up for what will be a bruising battle to claim California’s governorship in 2018. A recent Field Poll shows Newsom in a near dead heat at 41% voter favorability with former Los Angeles mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, who has not yet said if he will run. Current L.A. mayor, Eric Garcetti, also unannounced, trails by a 5% margin.

Two potential GOP contenders—San Diego mayor, Kevin Faulconer, and Fresno mayor, Ashley Swearengin,— drew positive ratings on who they are inclined to support from only 25% and 19% of voters respectively.

Perhaps another Field Poll although taken several years ago is more significant which showed 61% of California voters in favor of strong gun controls against 34% more concerned with protecting people’s rights to gun ownership under the Second Amendment.

This was the widest margin in 13 years with women favoring stricter controls by 69% to 52% by men. However, Democratic voters registered approval by 80% to 65% of Republicans who oppose any weakening of owner rights.

With Democrats holding a commanding voter majority in California and many independents of similar mind, gun advocates will face an uphill battle to defeat this measure short of a huge turnaround in public sentiment.

While this will give little comfort to the NRA which is still likely to mount a fierce lobbying effort to do so, Newsom will no doubt relish the attendant publicity.

No stranger to controversy, Newsom demonstrated an uncanny ability to get ahead of public opinion when, as San Francisco’s mayor, he led the charge resulting in the Supreme Court’s sanctioning of same sex marriage last year after a titanic decade-long struggle.

Though Californians are in general more supportive of gun control than voters nationally, Newsom’s stance in the midst of the 2016 presidential campaign could also play a role regardless of whom each party chooses as its nominee.

It would not be the first time.  In 2004, Newsom began granting marriage licenses to same sex partners memorably causing the eventual Democratic nominee, Barack Obama, to decline any photographs with the uncompromising mayor on a fund-raising visit to the City.

Many thought this would bring an end to Newsom’s political career in addition to embarrassment for the presidential contender; instead it catapulted the rebellious politician into the national spotlight.

The current Democratic frontrunner for the presidential nomination, Hillary Clinton, has already expressed support for tough gun controls while her closest opponent, Sen. Bernie Sanders, who comes from Vermont, a gun-friendly state, has taken a less liberal position.

Furthermore, Newsom’s risky advocacy of what is now the law of the land will not hurt his ability to raise large sums of campaign funds which he is counting on from gun control supporters who outnumber opponents in the state by 2-1 ratio.

By contrast, Governor Jerry Brown has a decidedly mixed record on gun control having vetoed 7 tougher measures in 2013 while approving 11 that tightened regulations in the wake of the 2012 Newtown, Connecticut elementary school and the Aurora, Colorado movie theater killings.

In 2015 Brown also signed a bill banning concealed weapons on college campuses over strong GOP opposition.

Gun control promises to be a hot button issue as well in the heating up 2016 California U.S. Senate race where the liberal Democratic attorney general, Kamala Harris so far is squaring off against only one major competitor–conservative Rep. Loretta Sanchez (Orange County).

Republicans as of now have seven declared candidates—the big names being State Assemblyman, Rocky Chavez (San Diego County) former state GOP Chair, Tom Del Beccaro, and Duf Sundheim, also a former party chair.

With the recent Paris massacre and heightened anxieties after continuing shootings in American cities, Newsom may be once again on the right (or Left) side of history.

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