In about 90 days, San Jose’s gun harm reduction ordinance is supposed to take effect. The policy, the first of its kind in the nation, will apply to all San Jose residents who own firearms. Individuals will be required to pay a $25 annual fee and have liability insurance.
San Jose officials said the program will raise an estimated $1.3 million annually. The funds will be allocated from the city to a newly-formed nonprofit that will distribute the monies to a variety of nonprofit organizations with programs related to domestic violence, suicide prevention and firearm safety. These fees will be generated from about 50,000-55,000 San Jose households that own firearms, city officials said.
The program, born out of the aftermath of a tragedy, has problems. The nonprofit assigned to distribute the funding has yet to be formed. The existing structure has no way to determine who owns a firearm in San Jose because the information is confidential. Once the firearm application is completed, it’s forwarded directly to the state and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). The city can’t request a data dump from California or ATF.
The liability insurance requirement is also a moot point, because all homeowners with a mortgage are required by law to carry insurance. Although renters are not, so how is the city going to track down either group? Confidentiality laws seal that data.
There’s also a logistics nightmare: the city—or the nonprofit—will need to create a public information campaign. A database system needs to be built out to collect and manage the fees—there’s that confidentiality problem again—and how will it be funded?
What is certain is any loss of life caused by shootings, whether accidental or premeditated, is unacceptable. It’s human nature to want to scream “Enough!” and come up with a plan to get guns off the streets and the bad guys locked up. The senseless killings over the last few years—the VTA and Gilroy Garlic festival shootings—have left permanent scars on our community. San Joseans want solutions and they need closure.
The city has put laws in place to capture video and audio of gun sales in San Jose. The purpose is to prevent so-called “straw purchases” of firearms. This occurs when someone buys a gun and passes it off to someone else who should not own a weapon. But recording gun shop sales in an effort to deter criminal behavior is far simpler than trying to track down every San Jose resident who owns a firearm.
So what about changing course?
Why doesn’t San Jose build on the existing programs it has in place—special units for crime and burglary with the San Jose Police Department. There was already a successful ghost gun manufacturing raid right here in Willow Glen.
These untraceable weapons built from kits or 3D printers can be manufactured anywhere. The Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office in 2015 uncovered four ghost guns in the county. Last year that number skyrocketed to 293, and those are the ones we know about.
Just yesterday, councilmembers considered targeted approaches to reducing crime. They looked at securing state funding to deploy community service officers, make it easier for people to upload security footage to SJPD, and ways to help small businesses install surveillance cameras in high-crime areas. The more prevention deployed the greater the odds of reducing gun violence. We can also increase the frequency of gun buyback programs.
Responding proactively also includes funding nonprofit programs focused on suicide prevention, domestic violence and firearm safety. The ordinance already wants to make several of these programs a priority. The city should allocate funding to these nonprofits and distribute them as grants. It doesn’t have to be complicated.
The ultimate goal of getting criminals behind bars and their weapons confiscated has never changed. It just requires prioritizing funding for programs in prevention—education and support—and intervention through targeted crime reduction.
The existing law, as well intended as it might be, is a plan that can’t be executed and is already mired in multiple lawsuits, potentially tying the city up in costly litigation.
There has to be a better way to get at the heart of this pain. Working proactively with the community and developing targeted crime programs will return dividends. Fees and insurance mandates won’t get us there.
Moryt Milo is San José Spotlight’s editorial advisor. She has more than 20 years of experience in Silicon Valley journalism, including roles as the editor for the Silicon Valley Business Journal and as a reporter and editor with the Silicon Valley Community Newspapers. Follow Moryt at @morytmilo on Twitter and catch up on her monthly editorials here.