Gavin Newsom's national Constitutional amendment to limit gun access put on hold

Should two thirds of state legislatures adopt similar resolutions, a Constitutional convention would be held.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom in September 2019

In light of potential issues surrounding the possibility of a “runaway convention,” the first hearing for Governor Newsom’s national Constitutional amendment to limit gun access was put on hold until August 29, 2023.

The joint Assembly and Senate resolution, featuring dozens of coauthors across both houses of the Legislature, would call for a national Constitutional convention to limit national gun access, bringing the nation in line with California gun access laws. National changes proposed would include universal background checks, ending gun ownership to those under 21 except in highly limited circumstances, create a minimum waiting period until a gun can be transferred to a buyer, and ban “assault weapons and other weapons of war.”

Should two thirds of state legislatures adopt similar resolutions, a Constitutional convention would be held, though the manner in which representatives would be appointed and in what number, along with any limits on what the convention could address are unknown, as the nation’s only Constitutional convention occurred in 1787 when the current constitution was written. Such a convention would still require adoption by three quarters of state legislatures or state conventions. With scant direction from the Constitution on what a Constitutional convention would look like, including how delegates are apportioned and whether or not the convention can be limited to one topic or not, a broad coalition of Constitutional experts are opposed to any call for a convention.

“Doing a convention puts every civil right we have in this country at risk,” said Viki Harrison, Director of Constitutional Conventions and Protecting Dissent Programs for left-of-center watchdog group Common Cause in an interview with The Center Square. “The entire Constitution could be rewritten.”

The alternative to this process is the amendment process, by which an amendment ratified by ⅔ of both houses of Congress and then ¾ of state legislatures becomes law. Every single amendment to the U.S. Constitution has gone through the amendment, not the convention process.

“The amendment process is a lot more in the open,” Harrison said. “You're going through the state legislatures where people can testify. You are going through Congress where people can interact with their legislators and their senators.”

The one group that has filed official support for the measure in the California legislature, Women Against Gun Violence, cited the number of gun deaths in their support, whereas the only group filing in opposition, Gun Owners of California, noted, “it’s very clear that once a Constitutional Convention is called, it cannot be undone. No resolution from the State of California will have any binding authority on what could occur should a Convention actually be called.”

With fairly bipartisan support from interest groups in opposition to the measure, and a lack of support from gun violence groups beyond the sole group on file, the governor’s measure’s fate as it faces a new hearing on August 29 remains uncertain, despite the governor’s support.