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Firearms rights group sues San Jose over proposal to make gun owners carry insurance and pay annual fee

<i>Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images</i><br/>A firearms rights group has sued the California city of San Jose over a proposal that would require many of the city's gun owners to carry liability insurance for accidents and negligence -- which would be a first in the nation -- as well as pay a new annual fee.
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Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
A firearms rights group has sued the California city of San Jose over a proposal that would require many of the city's gun owners to carry liability insurance for accidents and negligence -- which would be a first in the nation -- as well as pay a new annual fee.

By Jason Hanna, CNN

A firearms rights group has sued the California city of San Jose over a proposal that would require many of the city’s gun owners to carry liability insurance for accidents and negligence — which would be a first in the nation — as well as pay a new annual fee.

The city council preliminarily approved the proposed ordinance on Tuesday. The Colorado-based National Association for Gun Rights filed the suit the same day, asking the US District Court in San Jose to prevent the city from enforcing the proposed ordinance on numerous constitutional grounds, including alleging infringements on the Second Amendment.

“San Jose’s imposition of a tax, fee, or other arbitrary cost on gun ownership is intended to suppress gun ownership without furthering any government interest. In fact, the penalties for nonpayment of the insurance and fees include the seizure of the citizen’s gun. The ordinance is, therefore, patently unconstitutional,” the suit reads.

The city has identified a law firm to represent it on the issue at no charge, the mayor’s office has said.

“No good deed goes unlitigated,” Mayor Sam Liccardo said this week in response to the lawsuit. “Fees and taxes on guns and ammunition have existed since 1919 and have repeatedly been upheld.”

The mandate requires residents who own a gun to have “a homeowner’s, renter’s or gun liability insurance policy … specifically covering losses or damages resulting from any negligent or accidental use of the firearm,” including death, injury or property damage.

Liccardo has said some gun owners’ existing insurance policies would already meet this requirement.

The insurance and fee proposal exempts those in law enforcement, those with concealed carry permits and those for whom the fee would be a financial burden.

About 50,000 to 55,000 households in San Jose own guns, the city estimates. The city has about 325,000 households and more than 1 million residents.

One of the motivations behind the ordinance is to incentivize safer behavior, the mayor’s office has said, noting insurers could offer lower premiums to gun owners who take safety classes, use gun safes and install trigger locks.

Requiring insurance coverage would also ensure medical care for victims of unintentional shootings, Liccardo’s office has said.

Liccardo first proposed the insurance mandate in 2019, after three people were killed and 12 others injured in a shooting at a festival in nearby Gilroy. He proposed it again — and also proposed the annual fee — last year, after a gunman killed nine people at a San Jose public transit yard before killing himself in May.

But Liccardo’s proposed ordinance would not cover criminal, intentional shootings.

No insurer offers coverage to individuals for such shootings, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

As for the new fee: The ordinance would require gun owning residents to pay an annual “gun harm reduction” fee that will fund “a nonprofit organization being created by a team of public health and gun violence experts,” the mayor’s office says.

That fee would be about $25, plus “a small additional cost for the administration of the program,” according to the office.

The nonprofit will distribute the money “to community-based, evidence-based programs to reduce gun violence, such as domestic violence and suicide prevention, mental health counseling, addiction treatment, and gun-safe storage and training,” the mayor’s office says.

If the council approves the ordinance in a final reading on February 8, it would take effect in August, absent any court action.

Lawsuit: Ordinance affects only owners of lawfully-owned guns

In addition to taking issue with alleged constitutional infringements, the gun rights group’s lawsuit also contends the ordinance “only affects owners of lawfully-owned guns,” and its “true impact is solely on guns kept in the home by law-abiding citizens.”

“It does nothing to deter the scourge of unlawful ownership and use of guns by criminals to recoup from them compensation for the injuries and damage they cause,” the lawsuit states.

“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 lawsuit reads.

The suit also claims the ordinance violates California’s constitution because “it imposes taxes not approved by voters, or … imposes a fee that is unrelated to the costs borne by the city of San Jose.”

When asked at a January 24 news conference about unlawfully obtained guns, Liccardo agreed criminals were a concern, but said there are “existing laws in place” to deal with illegal guns. The mayor argued legally owned firearms are also “a source of enormous amount of death and harm in our community and we need to be addressing that as well.”

Mayor emphasizes cost of shootings

When Liccardo proposed the fee last year, his office said it would “compensate taxpayers for the public cost of responding to gun-related injuries and death, such as for emergency medical and police response.”

By Tuesday, when the city council voted on the ordinance, the mayor’s office was no longer saying the fee would compensate taxpayers. Instead, the ordinance directs the fee’s proceeds to the nonprofit for distribution to gun-violence reduction programs.

Nevertheless, Liccardo’s office has stressed the costs of firearm injuries.

It has cited a 2021 Pacific Institute on Research and Evaluation study saying shootings of all types — intentional and unintentional — cost San Jose residents $442 million per year, when including public costs like emergency response and private costs to individuals and families.

“Certainly, the Second Amendment protects every citizen’s right to own a gun. It does not require taxpayers to subsidize that right,” Liccardo said Monday at a news conference.

The council’s vote followed hours of debate and public comment on the issue.

Critics argued the ordinance punishes law-abiding gun owners and doesn’t do enough to address root causes of gun violence. One speaker told the council, “You cannot tax a constitutional right” and urged lawmakers to instead focus on enforcing existing laws, hiring more police officers and funding mental health services.

A supporter told the council the ordinance will “help protect our community from preventable gun deaths,” while another called on members to approve the measure, saying, “In the near future, it will be very evident that this was an obvious thing to do, and we’ll wonder why we didn’t do it sooner.”

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CNN’s Cheri Mossburg, Amir Vera, Andy Rose and Chris Boyette contributed to this report.

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