San Jose gun owners now face first-of-their-kind restrictions.
The city council voted to approve Mayor Sam Liccardo’s (D.) ordinance on Tuesday. That makes San Jose the first city in the nation to enact a mandatory insurance regime for gun owners and require them to pay an annual fee.
“While the Second Amendment protects the right to bear arms, it does not require taxpayers to subsidize gun ownership,” Mayor Sam Liccardo (D.) said in a statement before the vote. “We won’t magically end gun violence, but we will stop paying for it. We can also better care for its victims, and reduce gun-related injuries and death through sensible interventions.”
The ordinance passed after being split in two. The council voted ten to one for the insurance requirement despite multiple council members arguing insurance companies wouldn’t or couldn’t offer the policies it sought to mandate. It voted eight to three in favor of the gun ownership fee. The passage also came despite overwhelming public backlash to the proposal. The city council’s online public comment portal received 1230 comments on the ordinance, 1174 of which were filed in opposition.
The proposal also faced dissention on the council. Councilwoman Devora Davis was the only member to vote against both the mandatory insurance and annual fee provisions, calling the ordinances “unconstitutional” during Tuesday night’s deliberations. She also said the city should focus on making more resources available to enforcing current laws instead of the novel tax and insurance proposals.
“If we want to do something, give our agencies the tools and monetary resources they need to enact the laws we have already passed and inform our residents about their current options,” she said in a memo sent before the vote. “Don’t burden them with more legislation. We should not be punishing legal gun owners because they are the easiest target to regulate.”
Councilmembers Pam Foley and Matt Mahan joined her in voting against the annual fee specifically.
The ordinances are set to go into effect by August of this year. After which residents of San Jose who own a firearm will be required to maintain a homeowner’s, renter’s, or gun liability insurance policy that specifically covers “losses or damages resulting from any negligent or accidental use of the firearm.”
Gun owners will also have to pay an annual fee, currently estimated to be between $25-$35, to a newly-created nonprofit providing “services to residents of the city that own or possess a firearm or to members of their household.” According to the ordinance, such services are expected to include suicide prevention and violence reduction programs, mental health counseling, and firearm safety training.
They will also need to maintain a form showing proof of insurance and payment of the annual fee wherever their guns are stored or transported. Those who do not comply with these requirements could have their guns seized by police and face a possible civil fine, according to the ordinance draft.
California gun rights advocates decried the passing of the ordinance. Sam Paredes, executive director of the Gun Owners of California, told The Reload that the ordinance was “insincere” in that it did not affect criminals.
“The kind of liability insurance that the mayor is wanting to get doesn’t exist,” he said. “No insurance company will cover a criminal act.”
Experts who spoke with the The Reload agreed the ordinance would have limited applications for criminal behavior.
“California’s insurance laws don’t allow coverage for intentional acts,” George Mocsary, a law professor at the University of Wyoming, said.
He said the insurance mandate could have counterproductive effects on non-criminal behavior covered by the insurance, such as negligence.
“The best way to subsidize an activity is to take away its financial costs,” he told The Reload. “There’s a definite possibility that this will lead to more injuries because the financial incentive to take care is now gone.”
Critics also took issue with the annual fee on gun owners.
“Anytime you put in a fee requirement before you can exercise an enumerated constitutional right, you’ve got a problem,” Paredes said.
Gun-control advocates celebrated the policy. Allison Anderman, senior counsel for the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, applauded the policy as an innovative “comprehensive gun violence prevention proposal” that will protect residents. Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, said the group had worked “hand-in-hand” to pass the ordinance and cheered the city for taking “action that will save lives.”
Gun-rights advocates said the new law would soon face legal challenges.
“I guarantee that there will be a significant legal response,” Paredes said. “This is so clearly something that we believe we will win in court that we will be asking the city of San Jose to repay our legal fees.”