San Jose, California Q&A on gun control insurance, fee law

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San Jose leaders have taken the monumental step to become the first city in the U.S. to institute new gun laws that require firearm owners to carry insurance and pay an annual fee to reduce gun violence.

Within minutes, though, the first legal challenge was filed in federal court.

Here’s everything you need to know about the city’s new ordinance — and the lawsuit it faces.

What does the city’s new gun ordinance say?

The new city law — called the Gun Harm Reduction Ordinance — has two parts.

First, it mandates that all San Jose residents who own a gun maintain a homeowner’s, renter’s or gun liability insurance policy that specifically covers losses or damages resulting from negligent or accidental use of their firearm.

Additionally, the law requires that gun owners pay an annual fee to a nonprofit organization that will manage the funds and distribute them to groups who will offer various services like mental health services and suicide prevention programs to residents who own a firearm or live or are in a relationship with someone who does.

Liccardo envisions that the nonprofit will ask the Department of Justice to send out letters to all registered San Jose gunowners that are listed in their database and instruct them to pay the annual fee. Once a payment is made, the nonprofit will send the gunowner a form with their proof of payment and a space on the form to fill out their insurance information. That paperwork should then be carried or stored with an individual’s firearm, according to the ordinance.

Why do supporters of the ordinance think this will reduce gun violence?

Supporters of the new ordinance — most notably, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo — argue that the insurance component will encourage safer gun ownership.

Liccardo said Tuesday night that like auto-insurance, risk-adjusted premiums will encourage gunowners to take certain measures to reduce their premiums such as taking safety courses, storing their firearms appropriately and installing child-safe trigger locks.

SAN JOSE, CA – January 26: San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo speaks during a press conference at City Hall in San Jose, Calif., on Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022. (Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group) 

As for the annual fee requirement, supporters argue that using the generated funds for services focused on gunowners and those close to them will make the most impact in reducing harm from guns.

A 2004 study published in the National Journal of Medicine found that people who lived in a household with a gun — even if it is properly stored — were twice as likely to die from homicide and three times as likely to die of a suicide than those who do not. A more recent 2020 study from Stanford concluded that men who owned a handgun were eight times more likely to commit suicide by a gun than men who do not own guns and women who owned guns were 35 times more likely to do so than women who do not.

Using the funds generated from the annual fee for suicide prevention programs, gun-safety classes, mental health services, and addiction intervention will reduce the risk of San Jose gunowners falling into that trend, according to proponents.

What’s the deal with the legal challenge?

Minutes after the vote Tuesday night, the National Association for Gun Rights and San Jose resident Mark Sikes filed a federal lawsuit in against the city arguing that the ordinance is “patently unconstitutional” and violates both state and city laws. Sikes is a resident who legally owns guns and would be subject to the new ordinance, according to the lawsuit.

“If left intact, 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,” the suit states.

The suit, filed in the US District Court for the Northern District of California, argues the city has failed to prove how the insurance and fee requirement will actually reduce gun harm and specifically takes aim at the fee system.

“This redistribution of wealth from gun owners to one city-favored non-profit and its staff is not only obnoxious to the Constitution, it is an invitation to corruption and waste,” the lawsuit states.

The city expects that additional lawsuits are likely to follow.

SAN JOSE, CA – January 26: Dudley Brown, president of the National Association for Gun Rights, speaks during a press conference at City Hall in San Jose, Calif., on Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022. (Dai Sugano/Bay Area News Group) 

How much is the fine?

The base fine amount will be $25, but it could rise up to $35 once administrative fees are added in, according to the mayor.

Who is establishing the non-profit organization in charge of managing the fees collected?

Liccardo has convened a group of stakeholders, experts and advocates in fields related to gun violence that are currently creating the nonprofit. Some of the individuals involved include Gardner Family Health Network CEO Reymundo Espinoza, Stanford professor Dr. Julie Parsonnet and nonprofit leaders like Esther Peralez-Dieckmann, executive director of NextDoor Solutions to Domestic Violence.

The city manager will have the final say in choosing the designated nonprofit, which will then be required to provide bi-annual reports to city leaders about its work and results.

Do all insurance company’s provide this insurance, or only some? How much will it cost?

The mayor’s team reached out to more than a dozen providers of homeowner’s and renter’s insurance and “found widespread availability” in policies that cover gun ownership, according to Liccardo.

The ordinance does not contain details about a minimum coverage threshold or premium. The city also did not provide any estimate on the additional costs that gun liability coverage could add to an individual’s already existing homeowner’s or renter’s insurance bill.

When is the ordinance expected to take effect?

The ordinance is expected to take effect by the end of August, however, it could get delayed depending on the legal challenges. The city does not plan to begin collecting any fees until the lawsuits are cleared up.

Who would be exempt from the ordinance?

  • Sworn, active reserve or retired police officers
  • Residents who have a license to carry a concealed weapon
  • Low-income residents facing financial hardships

What is the definition of “financial hardships”?

This is one of the details of the ordinance that still has yet to be sorted out.

The mayor initially defined it as residents who qualify under California code 68632 and are exempt from paying court fees because of their financial state. However, several councilmembers asked if that definition could be broadened. The council is expected to revisit that when the ordinance comes back for the second vote on Feb. 8.

How many residents will be affected by the ordinance?

Neither the city or the nonprofit will have access to the Department of Justice database because of security and personal privacy concerns, so it’s unclear the exact number of San Jose gunowners that are currently registered.

Still, the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, which worked with the city to estimate the annual public cost of gun violence in San Jose, estimates that between 50,000 and 55,000 households in San Jose own guns.

If all of those households paid an annual fee of $25, more than $1 million would be raised annually.



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