AP Photo/San Jose Mercury News, Nhat V. Meyer
Apparently the answer to the question “Do you know the way to San Jose?” is “take a left turn at Republic Street and head down Tyranny Way.” San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo’s announced a new plan for his city: requiring gun owners to buy liability insurance for their firearms or pay a fee to the city in exchange for being allowed to exercise their constitutional rights. Liccardo says the idea is no different than requiring drivers to have car insurance, or raising taxes on tobacco products.
“We require motorists to carry automobile insurance, and the insurance industry appropriately encourages and rewards safe driver behavior,” Liccardo said. “We tax tobacco consumption both to discourage risky behavior and to make sure non-smokers are not forced to subsidize the substantial public health costs generated by smoking-related illnesses and deaths.”
The mayor hopes other cities will consider the proposal, a first of its kind in the nation, in the future.
Liccardo is also calling for a gun and ammunition sales tax to fund gun safety classes, gun violence prevention programs and victim assistance services, as well as a cash rewards program for anyone who reports a person who has unlawfully obtained guns or weapons. He also wants the city to explore a program that would allow parents to consent to having local law enforcement search their children or their property.
Actually, this is a lot closer to requiring voters to pay a poll tax before casting a ballot than requiring car insurance or raising taxes on tobacco. Driving a car or smoking a cigarette isn’t a right like owning a firearm, and it’s pretty clear that Mayor Liccardo’s intent here is to reduce the number of city residents who are exercising their constitutional rights. And just like a poll tax, the burden here will fall disproportionately on lower-income residents in San Jose, not the well-paid folks who work for Silicon Valley tech firms.
It should also be noted that Liccardo is demanding a tax increase on firearms and ammunition sales. Seattle implemented a similar tax in 2016, and hoped to raise hundreds of thousands of dollars per year to treat “gun violence.” Instead, the city has seen gun stores flee for the suburbs, and in 2017 the city brought in less than $100,000 in tax revenue. Raising money may be less important than raising barriers to the exercise of the 2nd Amendment rights of residents, but if that’s the case, the mayor should at least be honest about it.
It’s also impossible to know how Liccardo’s insurance mandate or gun ownership fee would be enforced, given the fact that California law prohibits localities from establishing a firearms registration system. Don’t be surprised if lawmakers in Sacramento introduce legislation that would rescind that law and let cities across the state impose such a registration system.
If such a plan gets implemented in San Joe, I’d also expect litigation to immediately follow. Mandating a fee in order to exercise a right, especially when the fee is designed to inhibit law-abiding residents from doing so, is clearly unconstitutional. But it’s also clear that gun control advocates like Liccardo are more than willing to trash the Constitution in exchange for a meaningless gun control ordinance.