California city first in US to mandate liability insurance for gun owners
The law passed by the city council is likely to be challenged in court on constitutionality grounds
The San Jose city council has passed a bill that will require gun owners to pay an annual fee and purchase liability insurance policies.
The piece of legislation was passed in two separate votes on Tuesday evening and became the first of its kind in a country where the right to own firearms is enshrined in the Constitution and ingrained in culture.
One councilwoman dissented on both items, saying that the bill may be unconstitutional. She predicted that it would not help reduce gun violence, contrary to what its sponsors argued, since the latter often comes from those who possess arms illegally. Two members voted only against the fees, citing concerns over how they would be managed. The rest of the 10-seat body voted for the piece of legislation.
The bill was put forward in 2019 by Mayor Sam Liccardo after a shooting at a San Jose food festival claimed the lives of three victims, two of them children, and left 17 others injured. The mayor said gun owners should be paying fees to cover taxpayer costs associated with gun violence, comparing the proposal to policies already in place for car drivers or tobacco smokers.
Gun rights advocates opposed the idea from the get-go, pledging to take the city to court if it were ever passed into law. They say it seeks to de facto punish law-abiding citizens for exercising their right under the Second Amendment instead of addressing the root causes of violent crimes.
Unless overturned, the mandate will come into force in August. The insurance is to cover cases of accidental discharge and those in which a firearm gets lost or stolen from the rightful owner. The annual fee will amount to between $25-$35 and will be paid to a nonprofit, which will distribute the money among groups offering services like suicide prevention counseling and firearm safety training.
The pioneering ordinance provides exceptions to active and retired police officers, people with a license for concealed carry, and poor people facing financial hardships, who wouldn’t be able to afford the additional costs.
The enforcement is not supposed to be proactive, with checks of payments done by the police whenever they come across a firearm during an investigation, similarly to checking driving licenses.
San Jose, a city of over one million residents, has adopted several laws recently to increase gun controls, including one that requires videotaping all gun purchases and another one that demands that gun owners lock up their property when they leave home.