Gun Insurance? San Jose Mayor Proposes First-in-Nation Ordinance Requiring It

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A .357 Magnum revolver on display at the Los Angeles Gun Club. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo on Monday introduced a "first-of-its-kind" measure to curb gun violence in the city by requiring firearm owners to take out insurance policies or alternatively pay a fee to help cover the public cost of emergency services.

The proposed ordinance was announced just weeks after two children from San Jose were killed in a mass shooting in nearby Gilroy.

"Too often we have seen these horrible tragedies and the headlines. And by now, it seems, that nothing more is added by merely offering thoughts and prayers. And city leaders and mayors don't have the luxury of waiting for Congress to act," Liccardo said at a press conference on Monday.

"We have to act to protect our communities. This proposal is not simply about stopping gun violence tomorrow. It is about ensuring that the public no longer pays for the cost of gun violence."

Gun owners should be held to the same "harm reduction" standards and requirements as drivers, Liccardo said.

"We've saved many lives in this country by requiring that drivers buy auto insurance to better allocate the costs of harm from collisions and to encourage drivers to engage in safer behavior," he said. "There is no reason why we should not similarly require owners of guns to do the same. We know that gun ownership is an inherently dangerous activity and we know that there are things that gun owners can do to ensure that their possession of guns is safer."

Insurance and taxes can both help incentivize or discourage different kinds of behavior, Liccardo added.

"I mean for example, even if a 19-year-old is allowed under a particular state's law to purchase a semi-automatic weapon, an insurance company might appropriately set the cost of insurance," he said. "That would make it prohibitively expensive for someone who should not have a gun to have one."

Liccardo also noted the effectiveness of steep tobacco taxes in curbing smoking rates and covering the costs of related public health services.

"We tax tobacco consumption both to discourage risky behavior and to make sure non-smokers are not forced to subsidize the substantial public health costs generated by smoking-related illnesses and deaths," he said.

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If approved, San Jose would become the first city in the nation to institute this type of insurance-or-fee mandate on gun owners.

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The measure would also impose local gun and ammunition sales taxes to help fund gun safety classes, violence prevention programs and additional victims' assistance services for gun violence survivors. It would additionally offer cash rewards for reporting someone in possession illegal firearms.

"With this measure, we won’t suddenly end gun violence. But we’re going to stop paying for it," said Liccardo, noting that he hopes other cities and the state will follow suit.

George Lee, a San Francisco attorney who represents a number of gun rights groups — including the national Firearms Policy Coalition — called the proposal both misguided and in violation of California law.

"Our reaction is once again profound disappointment that one is trying to basically punish and burden and tax law abiding gun owners for the criminal acts of others who have put it in their minds that they're not going to obey any law whatsoever," he said.

Lee added that his clients would file suit if Liccardo's ordinance is enacted.

"You just can't require somebody to carry liability insurance against your own criminal conduct," Lee said, adding that no insurance company would underwrite it.

"It's prohibited by California law and by public policy, and no court is going to require that to happen."

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