San Jose faced yet another lawsuit over its recently passed gun control ordinance this week.
On Tuesday, the Firearms Policy Coalition (FPC) filed a suit against the city in federal court, marking the third suit against the city’s novel gun law since it was first passed. It follows the immediate challenge from the National Association for Gun Rights filed in January and the challenge from the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association launched in March. As the legal challenges continue to mount, the experience in San Jose could have a chilling effect on other local governments considering gun ownership taxes or insurance requirements.
While lawsuits challenging new gun laws are by no means a new phenomenon, the amount of legal interest surrounding this particular city’s law is in some ways. The San Jose ordinance is the first instance of a government anywhere in the United States passing a mandatory insurance regime for gun owners. It is also the first to pass a tax on gun ownership, not just on gun sales.
The ordinance’s backers, including Mayor Sam Liccardo (D.), are quite proud of this fact. A press release from the mayor’s office dubbed the ordinance’s passing a “historic” event and emphasized the precedent the city council was setting.
“Tonight, San José became the first city in the United States to enact an ordinance to require gun owners to purchase liability insurance and to invest funds generated from fees paid by gun owners into evidence-based initiatives to reduce gun violence and gun harm,” Liccardo said the night it passed.
He also expected legal challenges, as indicated by his oft-repeated line that “no good deed goes unlitigated.”
But three lawsuits raising serious constitutional concerns before the law has even taken effect is also historic. Municipal governments do not have the same resources to defend controversial laws in court as states do. The threat of many lawsuits could be enough to cause other city governments to be more judicious about the types of policies they consider. This is especially true of novel policies passed on constitutionally dubious grounds.
And if the prospect of facing an onslaught of litigation isn’t enough to deter other municipalities, the city’s lack of progress in working out the logistics of the ordinance might.
San Jose Spotlight reported earlier this month that the non-profit tasked with collecting and distributing the new annual gun ownership fee has not yet been created, even though the ordinance takes effect in a matter of months. Additionally, the group of stakeholders tasked with advising on the formation of the non-profit has not met since January, the first and only time it ever got together.
That diminishes one of the mayor’s primary goals in proposing the tax and insurance mandate. The city of San Jose passed the law with the express intent of breaking new ground and setting an example for other localities to follow.
“With a successful effort, other cities could adopt similar ordinances, and— particularly with statewide adoption—enable greater impact, while engaging the insurance industry to incentivize safer behavior,” the mayor’s website reads.
San Jose may beat the lawsuits and work out the kinks in implementing the ordinance. But it’s more likely it does neither. That means the idea of other jurisdictions adopting a tax and insurance regime for gun owners could be dead on arrival.
San Jose’s novel gun control scheme may very well have a lasting impact. It just might not be the one its proponents hoped for.