Up in arms over San Jose gun rules, activists promise lawsuits
San Jose Councilmembers Matt Mahan (left) and Raul Peralez stand with Mayor Sam Liccardo as he shares his thoughts on the VTA shooting on May 26. Photo by Vicente Vera

Gun rights groups, instructors and activists say they’re outraged over San Jose’s proposed gun control ordinances—and they’ve promised to take the city to court if the measures become law.

“The whole proposal is completely disingenuous. It fails to provide any proven solutions. It is blatantly unconstitutional,” said San Jose resident Dave Truslow, a National Rifle Association firearm instructor. “In the meantime, (Mayor Sam Liccardo) is hoping to bask in the sunlight.”

On Tuesday, the San Jose City Council unanimously passed measures 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 weapons confiscated. The city attorney’s office will return to the council in the fall with an ordinance for final approval.

Gun activists argue that mandating insurance violates the constitutional right to bear arms. They believe insurance and public fees will undermine the ability of low-income individuals to own a gun.

Sam Paredes, executive director of gun rights policy group Gun Owners of California, promised last month that Liccardo would “have his rear end handed to him in a basket by a judge.”

“We think that the mayor must have aspirations to be king or something because his proposals are not allowed under federal or state law because of the constitution on the federal side and the preemption law on the state side,” Paredes told San José Spotlight.

The exact details of how much the city will charge gun owners have yet to be worked out. Liccardo stresses that fees will not be too heavy of a financial burden, even for low-income residents. He said there will be an option to waive fees for those who can’t afford payment.

“Owning a gun in this country is expensive simply because guns cost a lot of money,” Liccardo said at a news conference Wednesday. “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.”

Liccardo, who proposed the measures in 2019 after the Gilroy Garlic festival shooting, said he’s worked on a gun insurance proposal for nearly two years with gun control advocacy groups, such as the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. While the pandemic put Liccardo’s plans on hold, he revived them weeks after a VTA employee shot and killed nine workers at its rail yard in May.

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

The measures, Truslow says, won’t help prevent tragedies like the VTA shooting. Instead, he says they go after law-abiding citizens.

“What these measures really do is penalize the less affluent,” Truslow said.

Truslow is concerned that there are no measures to address issues that drive crime, including increasing the number of San Jose police officers, pursuing unlawful possession of guns, constructing a city jail for those who violate Santa Clara County’s sanctuary policy, more effective gang intervention programs and workplace violence training for public employees. He wants the city to address crime instead of Liccardo’s gun measures.

While pro-gun activists are concerned that their Second Amendment rights may be infringed on, resident Angela Tirado says the issue is much bigger.

“We’re not taking away Second Amendment rights. You do not have the right to kill somebody with gun violence,” Tirado said at Tuesday’s council meeting. “We need to not only get insurance, but we need to make sure there’s training provided, monitoring and more screening.”

Susan MacLean, a physician and member of Scrubs Addressing the Firearm Epidemic, sees the insurance mandate as a public health approach to gun control.

“Firearm liability insurance plans have the potential to incentivize safe behavior with firearms,” MacLean said.

But Paredes said the proposed gun control measures violate gun owners’ privacy and that people are “up in arms” about them. He said the city will have difficulty obtaining gun owners’ information and enforcing policies that violate Second Amendment rights.

“What is his solution? Is he going door-to-door, knocking on people’s homes and saying, ‘Do you own guns and where are they?’” Paredes said. “That would be a very, very bad idea, and would be reminiscent of some very bad periods of history, going all the way back to pre-World War II—what Germany did in Poland and even the unreasonable acts of government in the Japanese internment camps.”

He guarantees there will be multiple lawsuits filed against the city in state and federal courts.

“We are working with a coalition of pro-gun organizations right now to consider the legal steps that are available to us,” he said.

The Firearms Policy Coalition (FPC) says the regulations will hinder people’s right to defend themselves. The group also has promised to sue the city.

“The FPC has already directed litigation counsel to take any and all actions they see fit to protect the rights and property of San Jose residents, visitors and our members,” coalition President Brandon Combs told San José Spotlight.

Former District 10 Councilmember Johnny Khamis, who had a close working relationship with Liccardo while on the council, said he’s already fielded calls from angry residents who are concerned he agrees with the mayor’s gun control proposals.

“I’m just concerned that law-abiding citizens may be feeling that this is a new tax and this could be unconstitutional,” Khamis said. “They’re scared because there’s a lot of violent prisoners being released from jails. If the state isn’t willing to lock up violent criminals anymore, people want to own guns.”

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

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