Handguns on display at an industry trade show in Las Vegas, Nevada
Handguns on display at an industry trade show in Las Vegas, Nevada / Stephen Gutowski

First Lawsuit Filed Against San Jose Gun Tax, Insurance Mandate

Less than a full day after the votes were tallied, San Jose’s new gun control ordinance faces its first legal challenge.

The National Association for Gun Rights and an individual plaintiff filed suit in federal court against the city Wednesday morning. The lawsuit alleges that the city’s unprecedented gun-insurance mandate and annual gun ownership fee violate the Second Amendment rights of San Jose citizens.

“San Jose’s imposition of a tax, fee, or other arbitrary cost on gun ownership is intended to suppress gun ownership without furthering any government interest,” the suit reads. “In fact, the penalties for nonpayment of the insurance and fees include seizure of the citizen’s gun. The Ordinance is, therefore, patently unconstitutional.”

The suit marks the first of what is likely to be many legal challenges levied against the controversial new ordinance. Several gun groups and even Mayor Sam Liccardo (D.), the ordinance’s chief backer, predicted the move would be met with an onslaught of litigation upon its passage.

Alan Gottlieb, founder of the Second Amendment Foundation, told The Reload his organization planned to sue the city alongside other gun rights groups next month.

“The Second Amendment Foundation and the Firearms Policy Coalition will jointly be filing a lawsuit against San Jose to overturn this anti-gun rights law just as soon as it legally becomes ripe when they pass it on their second vote in February,” he said.

The ordinance, which isn’t expected to go into effect until August, would require gun owners to obtain liability insurance coverage and pay an estimated annual $25 fee. Failure to comply could result in confiscation of the owner’s firearms. The plaintiffs in the suit allege that these requirements run the risk of creating financial burdens to the exercise of a constitutional right.

“These costs are subject to the whims of the City Council and private insurance companies and, thus, bear a significant risk of making gun ownership cost prohibitive,” the suit said.

Citing the Supreme Court’s landmark Heller decision and San Jose’s restrictive gun-carry rules, the suit suggests the ordinance strikes at the heart of constitutionally-protected conduct for law-abiding citizens.

“Because California and the City of San Jose have already made it exceedingly difficult to lawfully carry a weapon outside the home, and the Ordinance only affects owners of lawfully owned guns, the Ordinance’s true impact is solely on guns kept in the home by law-abiding citizens,” the suit said. “It does nothing to deter the scourge of unlawful ownership and use of guns by criminals or to recoup from them compensation for the injuries and damage they cause.”

After several hours of public comment and internal deliberation, the ordinance passed the San Jose city council Tuesday night. It was met with nearly 1200 written comments from members of the public opposed to its passing.

Disagreement among members of the city council even resulted in the insurance provision and annual fee being divided into separate measures. Ultimately, both provisions passed with a 10-1 vote for mandatory insurance and an 8-3 vote in favor of the annual fee.

“Tonight, San Jose 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,” Mayor Sam Liccardo said after the vote.

He responded to Wednesday’s lawsuit by suggesting that he was confident the courts would uphold the ordinance.

“No good deed goes unlitigated,” the mayor’s office told The Reload. “Fees and taxes on guns and ammunition have existed since 1919 and have repeatedly been upheld.”

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Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019

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Created by potrace 1.16, written by Peter Selinger 2001-2019

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