Gun owners in San Jose, Calif., may soon be required to carry liability insurance and to pay an annual fee for suicide prevention and other safety programs intended to reduce gun violence.
Members of the San Jose City Council voted overwhelmingly in favor of a gun-ownership ordinance Tuesday night. If the measure is passed again after a second reading next month, as expected, the fees imposed on the roughly 50,000 gun-owning households in the city of more than one million residents could take effect in August.
City officials say the annual “harm reduction fee” of about $25 will go toward the cost of nonprofits that would help to run programs to reduce forms of gun violence like suicide and domestic violence, as well as to provide gun safety training, mental health counseling and addiction treatment.
None of the money collected would pay for litigation, political advocacy or lobbying, the ordinance says.
City officials said the insurance requirement and the annual harm reduction fee for gun owners would be the first of their kind in the country.
Guns and Gun Control in the U.S.
“We’re the urban center of Silicon Valley,” Mayor Sam Liccardo said in an interview on Wednesday. “And the spirit of Silicon Valley recognizes the importance and imperative of innovation when confronted with daunting challenges.”
Imposing fees and taxes on gun owners is not a new concept. A federal tax on guns and ammunition has been on the books for decades. States that require gun owners to have permits may already charge fees for filing or renewing that paperwork. Those fees can range from as little as $25 in Texas for retired judges and honorably discharged military veterans to around $340 for a handgun renewal application fee in New York City.
“It’s certainly not unheard-of to have reoccurring fees associated with gun ownership and possession,” said Billy Rosen, managing director for state policy and government affairs at Everytown for Gun Safety, which advocates stricter gun control laws. “But the specific mechanics of this may be unique,” he said. “We’ll be eagerly following to see how this plays out.”
What is new, San Jose officials say, is making liability insurance a requirement, similar to insurance for motorists, and seeking a fee to offset city services that go toward serving people directly affected by gun violence.
Opponents have voiced a series of objections, calling the annual fee and insurance requirement an unfair burden on gun owners, an ineffective tool against gun crimes and a breach of constitutional rights.
“If left intact,” the National Association for Gun Rights said in a federal lawsuit filed on Tuesday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, “the City of San Jose’s ordinance would strike at the very core of the fundamental constitutional right to keep and bear arms and defend one’s home.”
A spokeswoman for the National Rifle Association, Amy Hunter, called the ordinance “a ridiculous publicity stunt that will have no impact on public safety.” In a statement, Ms. Hunter also said the liability insurance “will never cover criminal acts, and those who break the law are already liable through our justice system.”
Mr. Liccardo acknowledged that “this is often standard coverage” but said that mandating it would help ensure that all policies covered it.
The liability insurance would cover “losses or damages resulting from any negligent or accidental use” of the firearm, including “death, injury or property damage,” the ordinance reads.
If a gun is lost or stolen, the owner of that gun would also be responsible for it up until the moment the loss or theft is reported to the police, according to the ordinance.
During the City Council meeting on Tuesday, Mr. Liccardo said the ordinance was intended to curb preventable forms of gun harm. “It’s easy to say this isn’t going to stop a crook who is intent on killing somebody. Well,” he added, “I challenge anyone to suddenly, magically craft that ordinance that will. It doesn’t exist.”
Gun violence, particularly in the forms of suicide and injury by accidental discharge, is more common among people who live in a home where a gun is stored, he said.
And San Jose taxpayers — many of whom do not own guns — already pay for police, hospital and emergency services to deal with those forms of gun violence, the mayor said. San Jose taxpayers “subsidize gun ownership by $151 annually per firearm-owning household,” Mr. Liccardo’s office said, citing a study by the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation that says the city spent at least $7.9 million a year responding to firearm injuries.
So, Mr. Liccardo argued, drawing dedicated funding from gun owners for those city services makes sense.
“Ironically,” he said on Wednesday, “the beneficiaries will be many of the members of the organizations that will be involved in suing the city.”