San Jose, California’s City Council on Tuesday passed a first-in-the-nation ordinance requiring gun owners to obtain liability insurance and pay an annual fee for their firearms, immediately drawing lawsuits from gun rights groups.
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, a Democrat, said the City Council had voted in favor of both measures despite opposition from gun owners who said it would violate their constitutionally protected right to own firearms. The ordinance still needs to be approved at a final reading next month before it can take effect in the city of about 1 million in August.
Funds generated from fees paid by gun owners will be used to create “evidence-based initiatives to reduce gun violence and gun harm,” Liccardo said. As for the insurance provision, gun owners who don’t acquire insurance won’t lose their firearms or face criminal charges.
During Tuesday’s meeting, some members of the public said the ordinance unfairly penalizes lawful gun owners.
“This is not fair. To a person that has legally done nothing wrong, who owns a gun, to basically be reprimanded,” said Mike Grant, a member of the National Rifle Association. “You’ve gotta go after the criminal that is stealing the gun, committing the crime, and prosecute them.”
On Wednesday, the National Association for Gun Rights and several other groups filed a lawsuit against the City of San Jose, the San Jose City Council, and Jennifer Maguire, who is the city manager of San Jose, over the ordinance.
“We promised we would sue the City of San Jose if they actually passed this ridiculous tax on the right to keep and bear arms, and now we’re fulfilling that promise,” said Dudley Brown, President of the National Association for Gun Rights, in a statement. “To tax a constitutional right is absolutely preposterous and places an undue burden on law-abiding gun owners. Do the members of the San Jose City Council actually believe this will do anything to stop crime?”
The plaintiffs, in their suit (pdf), cited a Supreme Court ruling from 1943 that concluded the government cannot “impose a charge for the enjoyment of a right granted by the federal constitution” and also cited a 2008 ruling that guarantees the right to possess and carry guns for self-defense.
“Because California and the City of San Jose have already made it exceedingly difficult to lawfully carry a weapon outside the home, and the Ordinance only affects owners of lawfully owned guns, the Ordinance’s true impact is solely on guns kept in the home by law-abiding citizens,” their lawsuit read. “It does nothing to deter the scourge of unlawful ownership and use of guns by criminals or to recoup from them compensation for the injuries and damage they cause.”