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Answer: Some states already have turned to citizens to enforce new laws.

A Missouri law that took effect last week allows citizens to sue local law enforcement agencies whose officers knowingly enforce any federal gun laws. Police and sheriff’s departments can face fines of up to $50,000 per occurrence. The law was backed by Republicans who fear Democratic President Joe Biden’s administration could enact restrictive gun policies.

In Kansas, a new law prompted by frustration over coronavirus restrictions allows residents to file lawsuits challenging mask mandates and limits on public gatherings imposed by counties. Last month, the Kansas Supreme Court allowed enforcement of the law to proceed while it considers an appeal of a lower court ruling that declared the law unconstitutional.

Utah also took a similar strategy on pornography last year, passing a law that allows citizens to sue websites that fail to display a warning about the effects of “obscene materials” on minors. Though adult-entertainment groups warned it was a violation of free speech, many sites have complied with the law to avoid the expense of a possible onslaught of legal challenges.

Citizens filing their own lawsuits has long been a fixture of environmental and disability-rights law, said Travis Brandon, an associate professor at Belmont University College of Law. Environmental groups, for example, help file suits against businesses accused of violating federal pollution permits.

In California, Proposition 65 allows people who might have been exposed to potentially carcinogenic materials to both file their own lawsuits and collect a kind of “bounty” if they win. Those laws are different, though, in that people generally must show they have been directly affected by a violation of the law, a feature missing from the new Texas measure, Brandon said.

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