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San Jose Becomes First U.S. City to Require Gun Liability Insurance

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A person holds a handgun with both hands with other firearms in the background.
California leads the nation in highest number of mass shooting deaths, but that ranking belies the fact that California has one of the nation's lowest overall rates of gun deaths per capita. (Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images)

Updated 11:05 a.m. Wednesday

The San Jose City Council voted Tuesday night to require gun owners to carry liability insurance in what’s believed to be the first ordinance of its kind in the United States. The city council overwhelmingly approved the ordinance despite opposition from gun owners who said it would violate their Second Amendment rights and promised to sue. The ordinance follows a trend of other Democratic-led cities that have sought to rein in violence through stricter rules.

Gun owners would also be required to pay an estimated $25 fee, which would be collected by a yet-to-be-named nonprofit and doled out to community groups to be used for firearm safety education and training, suicide prevention, domestic violence services and mental health services.

“Tonight, San José became the first city in the United States to enact an ordinance to require gun owners to purchase liability insurance, and to invest funds generated from fees paid by gun owners into evidence-based initiatives to reduce gun violence and gun harm," said Liccardo in a news release. "Thank you to my council colleagues who continue to show their commitment to reducing  gun violence and its devastation in our community."

In light of the newly passed ordinance, the Dhillon Law Group and the National Association for Gun Rights hosted a press conference today announcing its lawsuit filed late Tuesday night against the city of San Jose.

The ordinance is part of a broad gun control plan that Liccardo announced following the May 26 mass shooting at the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority rail yard that left nine people dead, including the employee who opened fire on his colleagues, then killed himself.

Having liability insurance would encourage the people in the 55,000 households in San Jose who legally own at least one registered gun to have gun safes, install trigger locks and take gun safety classes, Liccardo said.

The liability insurance would cover losses or damages resulting from any negligent or accidental use of the firearm, including death, injury or property damage, according to the ordinance. If a gun is stolen or lost, the owner of the firearm would be considered liable until the theft or loss is reported to authorities.

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The requirement won't apply to current and retired law enforcement officers or those with a license to carry concealed weapons.

Gun owners who don't have insurance won't lose their guns or face any criminal charges, the mayor said. However, those who don't insure their weapons would face unspecified fines.

Sam Paredes, executive director of Gun Owners of California, said his group will sue if the proposal takes effect, calling it "totally unconstitutional in any configuration."

"We have freedom of religion. You can't tax religion. We have freedom of association. We can gather together and we can't be taxed," he said. "The same is true with the Second Amendment. You can't put preconditions on it."

Liccardo said gun violence costs San Jose taxpayers $40 million a year in emergency response services.

"The Second Amendment protects every citizen's right to own and possess a gun. It does not mandate that taxpayers subsidize that right," Liccardo said. He said some attorneys have already offered to defend the city pro bono.

An increasing number of violent crimes nationwide also are being attributed to "ghost guns," the untraceable firearms made from build-it-yourself kits that can be assembled in minutes. At an hours-long meeting, critics argued that the fee and liability requirements violated their right to bear arms and would do nothing to stop gun crimes, including the use of “ghost guns."

“You cannot tax a constitutional right. This does nothing to reduce crime,” one speaker said.

The ordinance didn't address the massive problem of illegally obtained weapons that are stolen or purchased without background checks.

Liccardo acknowledged those concerns.

“This won’t stop mass shootings and keep bad people from committing violent crime,” the mayor said, but added most gun deaths nationally are from suicide, accidental shootings or other causes and even many homicides stem from domestic violence.

In 2019, ghost guns were associated with a fraction of gun-related deaths in San Francisco, but the following year, nearly 50% of guns recovered in homicide cases were ghost guns, San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin said. In Los Angeles, the police department said the number of ghost guns it seized had increased by about 400% since 2017.

The San Jose Police Department could not say how many of the more than 200 gunfire deaths and injuries annually involved firearms obtained illegally.

This story will be updated.


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