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California AG Rob Bonta discusses abortion rights, gun legislation

Office of California Attorney General Rob Bonta
California Attorney General Rob Bonta speaking at a student forum at San Bernardino Valley College on May 31, 2022.

California Attorney General Rob Bonta spoke with KVCR’s Jonathan Linden, where they discussed abortion and reproductive rights, as well as gun legislation.

Below is a transcript of the conversation between KVCR's Jonathan Linden and California Attorney General Rob Bonta.

Jonathan Linden: On May 31, California State Attorney General Rob Bonta held a student forum with San Bernardino community college district students to discuss abortion and reproductive rights here in California and across the U.S. I’m joined now by Attorney General Rob Bonta. To start here, attorney general, could you give our listeners a brief overview of what you discussed with the students and how that fits into your overall perspective on the issue of reproductive and abortion rights?

Rob Bonta: Yes, I just had a wonderful conversation with students and young people from San Bernardino community college as well as other colleges and heard directly from them about their concerns, their worries, their fears, their anxiety around recent developments that we've seen, and it was really impactful for me to hear directly from them, as they deal with the reality of a leaked U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Dobbs case which could potentially overrule Roe v. Wade, which has been the law of the land... (and has been) settled constitutional legal precedent for approximately 50 years. And also, we heard from them about gun violence and the need for more action in more places in this country, as they continue to suffer and feel the pain around the racist attack in Buffalo, the horrific mass shooting of young people, fourth graders, and teachers in Uvalde, Texas, and as well as more closer to home... a prior mass shooting in San Bernardino and a recent one in Laguna Woods. So, they were everything I expected them to be... clear-eyed and focused on the challenges that we face and passionate and demanding of action to create change that's necessary.

Jonathan Linden: And what are some things that you can do in your capacity as attorney general for California to protect abortion and reproductive rights here in the state?

Rob Bonta: Well, there's a couple of things that we can do and that we've been doing. One is we've been going to the fight, wherever that fight may be, wherever reproductive healthcare, reproductive freedom, the constitutional right to an abortion is being challenged in states from Arizona to South Carolina, in Texas when it comes to SB-8. And then directly to the Supreme Court, we led to an amicus brief in that Dobbs case, the case that will decide the future of Roe v. Wade... to make clear that the longtime settled law, the constitutional precedent, upholding a woman's right to choose, a person's right to choose... that should continue. And so, we've been in court fighting for reproductive health care and reproductive freedom. We've also, here in California been making sure that reproductive health care is provided no matter where you are, whether it be a health care clinic, or in jail, or in prison, that you have access to quality, affordable reproductive health care. We've also made clear that California does not criminalize pregnancy loss, and there is a district attorney who sees that differently, who has prosecuted two individuals... Adora Perez and Chelsea Becker for pregnancy loss. And we made it clear that Penal Code 187, our homicide statute here in California... under state law, does not allow for criminalizing pregnancy loss as used in those cases. So, there's a lot that we're doing, and we're going to continue to do everything in our power to ensure that California is the strongest reproductive freedom state in the nation.

Jonathan Linden: And to pivot here, attorney general, you just touch base on the recent shootings in Texas, and in New York… concerning California gun restrictions, some of which have recently been challenged in the court over the last year. But just in early May, a Federal Court of Appeals ruled that the state's ban on semi-automatic rifles to people under the age of 21 was unconstitutional. Do you and your office plan on appealing that ruling?

Rob Bonta: We're going to continue to defend California’s nation-leading gun laws. We officially are evaluating the decision, including considering the timing of our next action as it relates to the U.S. Supreme Court's expected decision in the Bruin case, a major second amendment case with national implications. But the short answer is, we are going to do everything in our power to defend all of the nation-leading gun laws in California that have led to us having not just the strongest gun safety laws in the nation, but one of the lowest firearm mortality rates in the nation, whether it be defending our assault weapons ban, which we are doing right now in court… defending our large-capacity magazine ban, which we successfully did in court. We're going to make sure that the laws that protect Californians and make them safe from gun violence continue to keep them safe.

Office of California Attorney General Rob Bonta
California Attorney General Rob Bonta posing with attendees of a student forum held at San Bernardino Valley College on May 31, 2022.

Jonathan Linden: And so that May case was just one example of where judges have stepped in to attempt to stop further gun legislation in California. Are there a lot of seated judges that pose a big hurdle in stopping further gun legislation here in California?

Rob Bonta: I don't know if there's a lot or a little or if that is particularly the right question to ask. I think the right question to ask is, for me, if an impactful, effective law that keeps people safe from gun violence and is constitutional... in our view, is struck down by a court, and there's an opportunity to continue to make our case, and in another hearing, or to another court or Court of Appeal, we're going to do what we think is necessary to keep people safe from gun violence and to uphold California's nation-leading constitutionally compliant laws. So, we just take each case as it is; we did have a judge that struck down a 30-year-old assault weapons ban and likened an assault weapon to a Swiss army knife... we differed greatly in terms of our position on that law. And we got to stay on that judge's ruling, which means that judgement will not take effect and that the assault weapons ban continued to be the law in the state of California. And then we appealed it to the ninth circuit. And so, we'll address each issue as it comes up with that respective court and that respective judge, but we're focused on the issues... the constitutional compliance of our laws and the safety and life-saving nature of those laws.

Jonathan Linden: And just one more question, attorney general, why do you and your fellow Democrats think that more gun control is the answer to gun violence when California already has some of the strictest laws in the country… and is still, unfortunately, not immune to shootings? Are there specific problems that bills in the legislature hope to solve this year? And are you prepared to defend them if they go to court?

Rob Bonta: I think it's important to for individuals to put aside whatever ideological perspectives they have and focus on what works. What does the data, the evidence, the facts, and science show that prevents gun violence? And it's undisputed that California has some of the strongest gun safety laws in the nation and also has one of the lowest firearm mortality rates in the nation. That is not a coincidence. Those things go hand in hand; from the New York Times to the San Francisco Chronicle, other periodicals and news outlets are writing right now about California's nation's leading gun laws and how they work. That's the headline for the New York Times. California has some of the strongest gun laws, and they work. So, we are doing what works. We are doing what saves lives, what keeps people safe, and if there are things we have not done yet, that can keep people safe and can work and are constitutionally compliant, then I know that the legislature is considering those. There's two bills right now, one that I'm sponsoring as the attorney general and our office (the California Department of Justice is formally sponsoring), which allows for gun manufacturers, distributors, and sellers to be sued and for their federal immunity to be pierced, consistent with that federal law when they don't meet certain standards of care and take certain precautions. I think it's important to have accountability for our gun manufacturers, distributors, and sellers. So, we will defend the laws of the State of California if they're challenged; that's our job; we are the attorney for the state of California. One of our jobs is to is to defend the laws and of the state and the propositions of the state when they are challenged in court.

Jonathan Linden: Alright, well California State Attorney General Rob Bonta, thank you for joining me in studio today.

Rob Bonta: An honor to join you; thanks for having me.

Jonathan Linden was a reporter at 91.9 KVCR in San Bernardino, California. He joined KVCR in July 2021 and served with the station till October 2022.