San Jose leaders call for gun control after VTA shooting
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo introduced numerous local gun control measures on June 8, 2021 including requiring gun owners to have liability insurance. File photo.

    Less than two weeks ago, San Jose leaders gathered at City Hall to mourn the nine victims of the May 26 VTA light rail yard shooting.

    With the city still reeling from the shooting, elected officials gathered again Tuesday to propose local gun control measures, including rules that would require all gun owners to carry liability insurance and pay fees to support critical emergency medical and police response. Leaders said San Jose would be the first city in the state and the nation to implement such laws, if approved.

    Mayor Sam Liccardo said that eight incidents of gun violence occurred in the city since the VTA mass shooting.

    “Cities cannot wait for Congress and certainly not for the courts to protect residents from gun violence,” Liccardo said. “These gun deaths are preventable and we can save lives and make our community safer, but we need to recognize gun violence for what it is: a public health crisis.”

    City leaders also aim to prevent straw purchases—buying a firearm and passing it off to another person prohibited from owning a gun—a practice banned under state law. Other proposed measures include strengthening the effectiveness of gun violence restraining orders and requiring fingerprinting for ammunition purchases.

    It’s unclear how much gun owners could pay in fees, a decision left up to the full City Council. The gun control plan will go before the council at an undetermined future date.

    Gun rights advocate groups, such as the Firearms Policy Coalition, say they will take legal action should these policies be implemented. Taylor Svehlak, the director of public affairs for the Firearms Policy Coalition, said that Liccardo’s proposals are “constitutionally offensive.”

    “Mayor Liccardo’s proposed fees are constitutionally offensive and would severely burden the right to keep and bear arms,” Svehlak told San José Spotlight. “They would put lawful access to firearms out of reach of poor and underprivileged individuals in high-crime neighborhoods—people who rely on their firearms to defend their lives and families from violent criminals.”

    The proposal follows a recent decision by a federal judge to overturn California’s longtime ban on assault weapons. In the ruling, U.S. District Judge Roger Benitez of the Southern District of California said the ban was unconstitutional and likened the AR-15 rifle to the Swiss Army knife.

    Liccardo addressed this on Tuesday.

    “San Jose residents know the difference between an AR-15 and a Swiss army knife, even if a federal judge doesn’t,” he said.

    Svehlak, however, fears that monitoring people who wish to purchase firearms and restricting what firearms they can purchase would be “Orwellian” requirements.

    “Mayor Liccardo is proposing an utterly dystopian program designed to turn neighbor against neighbor in support of his tyrannical and oppressive policies,” Svehlak said. “One wonders what other classes of people he would like to use community snitches to target for heavy-handed police actions.”

    Alongside Liccardo stood Vice Mayor Chappie Jones, Councilmembers David Cohen and Magdalena Carrasco, Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen, Moms Demand Action volunteer Yvonne Murray, Esther Sanchez-Gomez, an attorney with the Giffords Law Center and Maria Ines Ortega, co-president of the Winchester/Cadillac Project Hope Association.

    Ortega, who spoke through a Spanish translator, said the community cannot continue to witness innocent lives lost.

    “It’s time to implement stronger laws, to keep our families safe,” she said. “My kids have been exposed to stray bullets multiple times… we need this to stop. We need it to stop now.”

    Maria Ines Ortega (right), co-president of the Winchester/Cadillac Project Hope Association, speaks on June 8. Photo by Lloyd Alaban.

    Jones said the city plans to leverage federal information for early intervention to help reduce gun violence.

    “We all want to see gun violence end,” he said. “Gun violence can touch each and every one of us directly.”

    Jones said he was a victim of gun violence at age 19, when an individual fired a handgun at him.

    “My offense was that I didn’t let him cut in front of me in the drive-thru lane of Jack in the Box,” he said.

    Vice Mayor Chappie Jones shared stories of being a victim of gun violence and losing a friend to a shooting. Photo by Lloyd Alaban.

    Cohen said he has “no doubt” that ensuring gun owners are responsible will save lives.

    “We can no longer wait for others to solve this problem for us,” he said. “Our city can be a model for others to follow.”

    Carrasco said it’s not just the local community crying out for change, but the whole country.

    “We recognize this won’t solve everything, but we hope it will be an incentive for those who choose to continue to bear arms to behave in a way that will reduce harm,” she said. “And for those who shouldn’t have arms in their possession, we will be able to strengthen those policies and make sure they don’t have them.”

    She spoke about having to tell her kids to duck and cover while gunshots rang out on her street.

    “As a mother and elected official, I refuse to accept any type of gun violence in our community,” she said.

    Councilmember Magdalena Carrasco spoke of having to tell her kids to duck and cover while gunshots rang out on her street. Photo by Lloyd Alaban.

    Carrasco also touched on what she referred to as another epidemic in San Jose: domestic violence. She said domestic violence is the most underreported crime in the country, with actual incidents five times higher than those reported. And, she said, the presence of guns in an already hostile situation increases the likelihood of a woman losing her life by 500%.

    “There’s only tragedy to be had when guns and domestic violence intersect,” she said. “We need red flag laws to protect our community from domestic violence and other domestic partner violence.”

    Tuesday wasn’t the first time Liccardo proposed requiring insurance for all gun owners. It earned him national headlines in 2019, but the policy’s implementation halted last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. He said he and his staff have gathered data on gun violence for the last two years for the proposals.

    It’s also earned him choice words from Svehlak.

    “If you ban constitutionally protected firearms or conduct, we are coming for you,” Svehlak said. “The days of governments doing whatever they wish to impose expansive, unconstitutional gun control laws are numbered. We will work tirelessly to bring (Liccardo’s) tyrannical efforts to a crashing halt and are committed to restoring human liberty and freedom using every available resource.”

    The VTA mass shooting happened May 26 shortly after a union meeting at a VTA light rail yard in downtown San Jose. The gunman, a 57-year-old VTA technician, killed nine people before shooting himself.

    The shooter had three 9mm pistols and 32 high-capacity magazines, according to the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office. Authorities said the shooter fired 39 bullets. The magazines, which held more than 10 rounds, are illegal in California.

    The three guns were legally obtained and registered, according to FBI Special Agent in Charge Craig Fair.

    Contact Lloyd Alaban at [email protected] or follow @lloydalaban on Twitter. Contact Nick Preciado at [email protected].

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