A federal court has denied a gun rights group’s attempt to halt San Jose’s gun harm reduction policy, as the city works to dismiss the lawsuit altogether.
U.S. District Judge Beth Labson Freeman refused to block San Jose’s law—the first in the nation—to require gun owners to pay an annual fee and carry liability insurance in a ruling this week. Local policymakers pushed for the law last year after a mass shooting at the VTA light rail yard near downtown San Jose left nine people dead.
“(The judge’s decision) is positive because it means that the plaintiffs can’t immediately block the ordinance,” Tamarah Prevost, lead attorney representing San Jose, told San José Spotlight. “But it doesn’t have a necessarily permanent effect on the rest of the case.”
The lawsuit, filed in January by the National Association for Gun Rights, claims the city’s new law violates the First and Second Amendments by imposing a special tax without a majority of voters’ approval—and requiring a nonprofit to spend the money on specific programs.
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo led the effort on the gun harm reduction policy last year and called the decision “an important step forward for sensible gun regulation.”
“To confront the scourge of escalating gun violence in our nation, we need bolder, more impactful and more creative solutions than the half-measures that have emerged from Congress,” the mayor said.
The ruling came ahead of a Thursday hearing where San Jose is looking to dismiss one of three lawsuits challenging the local law aiming to reduce gun violence. The city also seeks to dismiss the other two cases, filed by the Firearms Policy Coalition and the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, at hearings later this month.
Michael Columbo, an attorney for the National Association for Gun Rights, said the judge’s decision doesn’t mean a total win for San Jose.
The local policy was set to take effect Aug. 8, but San Jose has decided to delay implementation until at least January, according to a July memo from the city manager’s office. San José Spotlight reported in April the city had yet to set up a nonprofit to enforce and collect the fee.
“So the court denied our motion, but the city decided not to do it anyway,” Columbo told San José Spotlight.
He also pointed out this week’s ruling appears to side with the gun group’s argument on the fee, which Columbo called a mandatory donation. In a footnote in the ruling, Judge Freeman said the gun group brought up “compelling points” and advised San Jose to pay “close attention” to the arguments as it works on its regulation.
Columbo also questions the city’s delay in implementing the fee. Freeman said at the hearing she might dismiss some aspects of the lawsuit because she can’t assess the gun group’s argument until more information on how the nonprofit will work is available.
“It’s interesting that at this point, after working on designing the ordinance for a year or more with the advice of experts and counsel, and six months after enacting it to much fanfare, San Jose still can’t decide how to lawfully implement it,” Columbo said.
At the hearing, Prevost said the city is not delaying the gun fee enforcement to undermine the lawsuit.
“It is not the case at all, in any manner, that the city is waiting for this case to end before it moves on (with this ordinance),” Prevost said. “The city is working very hard to develop regulations that are constitutional and effective (to) deal with this very complex problem.”
According to the city’s memo, officials will give the San Jose City Council an update on the gun policy implementation in August—with plans to start establishing a designated nonprofit in September.
Freeman indicated she’ll dismiss a number of claims from the gun rights group, but won’t issue an order until she finishes the dismissal hearings on the other two cases.
The court is planning to consolidate the three lawsuits, Freeman said.
Contact Tran Nguyen at [email protected] or follow @nguyenntrann on Twitter.