San Jose gun owners need insurance in 2023
A San Jose business owner shows a gun with a trigger lock in his shop in this file photo.

    San Jose gun owners—get ready to comply with the city’s new gun ordinance come January.

    Starting next year, all San Jose gun owners will be required to have insurance that covers firearm harm or accidental firings. It’s part of the city’s new gun harm reduction ordinance—a contentious, first-of-its-kind law that seeks to reduce gun incidents by mandating liability insurance and collecting an annual fee from gun owners. The annual fees would be used to fund programs that address suicide prevention, mental health and addiction services, and firearm safety training or victim compensation.

    San Jose households with a firearm will be required to have a homeowner, renter or gun liability insurance policy for their firearms. The city is still designing plans to collect the annual fee, which is tentatively set for $25. San Jose will start collecting once the city selects a nonprofit to manage the money.

    Mayor Sam Liccardo, who designed the policy, said this is a great step to making San Jose safer from gun violence. According to his office, more than 200 people are killed or injured annually by gunfire in San Jose. Fatal and non-fatal firearm shootings of San Jose residents cost $995 million in 2019-20, Liccardo said.

    “Gun insurance incentivizes safer behavior,” Liccardo told San José Spotlight. “Just as drivers with auto insurance received discounts on their premiums for having safe driving records in the 1990s, getting a car with anti-lock brakes, or in the 1980s getting a car with airbags, so too insurance can incentivize gun owners to take gun safety classes, ensure their guns have chamber-load indicators, purchase gun safes and get trigger locks.”

    How does it work? 

    A San Jose resident’s liability insurance policy must cover losses or damages resulting from the accidental use of a firearm including but not limited to death, injury or property damage. There is no mandatory minimum coverage.

    “Firearm owners have the option of complying with the liability insurance requirement through homeowner’s insurance or renter’s insurance policies that provide liability coverage,” Kristen Van Kley, city spokesperson, told San José Spotlight. “Homeowner’s and renter’s insurance are widely available from many different insurers in California.”

    Gun owners must out fill an insurance attestation form and have a policy in effect by January 1. The form must also be with the firearm at all times as proof of compliance. If a firearm is discovered without the form, it will trigger a police report and could result in administrative citations, with fees starting at $250.

    The only San Jose gun owners who are exempt from the insurance requirement are police officers and those with concealed carry permits, according to city documents. Low-income gun owners may apply for a waiver.

    “There should be little burden for gun owners, as most home and renters insurance policies already cover what is required by the law, or else a rider can be acquired by the policyholder at no or little cost,” Liccardo said. “Gun owners will simply need to confirm they have such insurance.”

    But the issue of coverage may be more complicated. Councilmembers Maya Esparza and Dev Davis previously said most insurance agencies they talked to told them only accidental firings outside of a household could potentially be covered. Negligence or criminal behavior would not.

    “I spoke with two insurance agents including my own from different companies and neither of them said that negligence use is specifically covered in their policies,” Davis said. “I’m still not certain how we can require a specific type of insurance that does not exist.”

    Why now?

    Liccardo originally proposed the idea after the 2019 Gilroy Garlic Festival shooting that claimed the lives of three children. Things stalled when COVID-19 hit in March 2020, but Liccardo brought the idea back in May 2021 following the mass shooting at the VTA light rail yard in downtown San Jose. The ordinance passed almost unanimously in February and received support from groups like Moms Demand Action and other organizations advocating for gun reform.

    The ordinance was also highly contested. Its implementation was delayed as the city dealt with multiple lawsuits from gun rights activists and taxpayer associations. In August, a federal judge ruled against blocking San Jose’s gun law, so the city moved forward with implementation. So far, the court has dismissed nine of the ten claims filed by two litigants, and a third plaintiff has withdrawn their suit, according to Liccardo.

    However, San Jose is not out of the woods just yet. Sam Paredes, executive director of Gun Owners of California, said his organization and a coalition of Second Amendment advocates plan to sue the city once the law is implemented. They claim the policy violates their right to bear arms by placing barriers and mandating that gun owners pay to use that right. He also said he believes the gun insurance will have “zero impact” on reducing gun violence.

    “This law is just not going to prevent criminal misuse,” Paredes said. “What it will do is make it a little more difficult and cumbersome for some of the people in lower income areas of San Jose—those people who live where crime happens more regularly—to own a gun.”

    Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.

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