San Jose mayor announces 'first-of-its-kind' proposal to combat gun violence

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ByChris Nguyen KGO logo
Tuesday, August 13, 2019
San Jose mayor announces 'first-of-its-kind' proposal to combat gun violence
The proposed city ordinance would require all firearm owners in San Jose to carry liability insurance for their weapons.

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- Two weeks after the deadly Gilroy Garlic Festival shooting, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo has proposed a comprehensive plan to combat gun violence and reduce its cost on the public.

Liccardo's proposed city ordinance, announced Monday, would require all firearm owners in San Jose to carry liability insurance for their weapons. If approved, city officials say it would be the first such requirement in the nation. Gun owners who are unable to purchase liability insurance could pay an annual fee to the city to compensate taxpayers for the public costs of firearm violence in the city.

"A mayor doesn't have the luxury of just offering thoughts and prayers... we have to solve problems," said Liccardo in a statement provided to ABC7 News. "While this is far from a complete solution, it is something we can do to reduce the harms of firearms, without waiting for Congress to take action."

In addition to an insurance-or-fee mandate, Liccardo proposed imposing gun and ammunition sales taxes to help fund gun safety classes, gun violence prevention programs, and additional victim assistance services for survivors of gun violence. The city could also look into creating a program to offer cash rewards to anyone who reports someone who possesses unlawfully-obtained guns or weapons.

Liccardo says he based his design of penalties for noncompliance on California Vehicle Code Section 16209, which provides fines and other penalties for the misdemeanor of operating a vehicle without insurance.

"We require motorists to carry automobile insurance, and the insurance industry appropriately encourages and rewards safe driver behavior. 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," Liccardo said. "These successful public health models inspire a similar 'harm reduction' approach for firearms."

Law experts say the proposal is all but certain to face a legal challenge but is it constitutional?

"I think the answer to that will depend on whether it in fact keeps guns out of people's hands or whether it's a reasonable tax," said Prof. Deep Gulasekaram with the Santa Clara University School of Law. "Lots of state and local regulations of firearms have been upheld because they are reasonable."

City officials say the insurance would cover accidental discharge of the gun, and for the intentional acts of third parties who steal, borrow, or otherwise acquire it. However, the insurance wouldn't cover the liability of the policyholder for his or her own intentional conduct.

"Criminals are already ignoring California's more than 800 gun laws, so it's doubtful many of them would rush out and get liability insurance. But, even if they did, liability insurance won't cover criminal acts," said NRA spokesperson Amy Hunter.

Evan Bishop, owner of the Bullseye Bishop gun shop in San Jose, believes the ordinance would penalize law-abiding gun owners.

"We're talking about criminals and those types of things, and people with mental health issues. Those are the things that need to be looked at so we can cut it off before it gets to an issue, or the firearms get into their hands," said Bishop.

The mayor plans on reaching out to other cities in California and throughout the country to encourage them to pass similar legislation.

"Under current Supreme Court rulings, the 2nd Amendment to the US Constitution protects the right to keep and bear arms. However, the Constitution does not require taxpayers to subsidize that individual choice," says Liccardo. "The cost of city police and emergency services required to address gun violence should be paid by gun owners, not all taxpayers."

The city council is expected to review the proposal by the end of the month.