San Jose to make gun owners carry insurance, pay into public fund
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.

    Gun owners in San Jose will soon have to pay for insurance to keep their firearms.

    The San Jose City Council unanimously passed gun control measures Tuesday that will require all gun owners in the city to carry insurance and pay an annual fee to cover taxpayer costs related to gun violence, or risk having their guns confiscated. The city attorney’s office will return to the council in the fall with an ordinance for final approval.

    San Jose could become the first city in the nation to pass such reforms.

    “The council has made clear that while the Second Amendment certainly protects the right for every citizen to own a gun, it does not mandate that taxpayers subsidize that right,” Mayor Sam Liccardo said at a news conference Wednesday.

    The measures are part of sweeping gun control reforms Liccardo has been working on for almost two years. He first introduced the idea of gun owner insurance in 2019 after the mass shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival. The plan was shelved in 2020 due to the pandemic.

    Liccardo revived his gun control measures just weeks after the mass shooting at a VTA rail yard.

    The city already passed one of his plans two weeks ago, which requires all purchases at gun shops to be video and audio recorded.

    According to numbers from nonprofit Pacific Institute on Research and Evaluation—which Liccardo frequently cited leading up to the vote—between 2013 and 2019, San Jose residents paid a combined $441.9 million in gun violence-related costs.

    The exact details of how much the city will charge gun owners have yet to be worked out, although lawmakers stress that fees and insurance will not significantly burden gun owners.

    Liccardo addressed concerns Wednesday that insurance and fees will disproportionately affect low-income gun owners, saying owners will be able to apply for fee waivers.

    “Owning a gun in this country is expensive simply because guns cost a lot of money,” Liccardo said. “Many guns cost hundreds of dollars. So I would expect that a fee that is perhaps a couple dozen dollars is not going to be particularly onerous.”

    San Jose residents phoned in Tuesday, with some gun control groups, such as Moms Demand Action, praising the measures.

    “There is no one law or policy that will solve the public health crisis that is the gun violence epidemic,” said Jessica Blitchok, a volunteer with Moms Demand Action. “However, a holistic approach will reduce gun harm in San Jose and the greater community.”

    Other residents feel like the measures go too far in restricting the rights of lawful gun owners.

    “The mandatory gun liability insurance puts a financial burden on a constitutional right,” said Owen, a caller who didn’t give his last name. “When a police officer comes on a call and they ask the question, ‘Do you have a firearm? Do you have insurance?’ You have to produce that. Seems kind of ridiculous.”

    Resident Sasha Sherman agreed, saying the tax burden on legal gun owners is already incredibly high without insurance.

    “Mayor, it seems like you’re playing national politics here and I don’t think San Jose taxpayers should subsidize your political ad campaign,” she said.

    Councilmember Raul Peralez, a reserve police officer and gun owner, says he’s baffled by those who are against gun reform. He says that gun owners can support control measures and enjoy their Second Amendment rights.

    “I likely own the most guns of anyone on the council. I’ve continually been in favor of sensible gun laws,” Peralez said Tuesday. “If paying more is able to offset the negative impacts of guns in society, I will continue to support them while being a proud gun owner. They’re not mutually exclusive.”

    Councilmembers Dev Davis and Matt Mahan proposed exemptions to carry insurance if gun owners could prove they can safely handle a gun—either through gun safety training or previous experience, such as being a retired or reserve law enforcement officer. City officials plan to come back in the fall for further research on the exemption.

    “I see the value of guns for self-defense, for hunting, for sport and also I’ve seen the research on gun violence,” Davis said. “Research shows that states with tougher gun laws have lower levels of gun violence. I’m not completely sold on the fee and insurance.”

    She suggested the mayor speak with gun rights groups such as the Second Amendment Foundation, the California Gun Rights Foundation and the California Rifle & Pistol Association.

    Gun rights groups are expected to challenge the measures in court.

    “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,” Taylor Svehlak, director of public affairs for the Firearms Policy Coalition, told San José Spotlight.

    Liccardo is “quite confident” the city will win any legal challenges.

    “When it comes to sensible gun regulation, no good deed goes unlitigated,” he said Wednesday. “It’s fair to say there’s going to be a very active effort on the part of the legal community here in the Bay Area to ensure that whatever we pass is appropriately defended.”

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

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