San Jose Eyeing Mental Health Checks For Gun Owners

AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File

San Jose, California Mayor Sam Liccardo has already made national headlines for his proposal to force gun owners to pay a fee to the city and purchase liability insurance, though how the city will actually enforce that mandate remains to be seen. While the city council tries to figure out those details, a council member who’s planning a mayoral run of his own next year is going even further than Liccardo’s own crackdown on legal gun ownership by pushing for psychological evaluations of gun owners in the city.

Under his proposal, Peralez is calling for the city to evaluate workplace culture and climate across every department and bargaining unit within the city of San Jose, including creating a “proactive campaign” to encourage employees to use existing mental health and wellness programs offered to them.

He is also asking the city to partner with Santa Clara County to create a permanent Trauma Recovery Center where those both affected by an event like a mass shooting, wildfire or public health crisis could seek crisis intervention, advocacy services and therapy. The County Board of Supervisors in late August unanimously approved a temporary trauma recovery center for VTA mass shooting survivors, with the expectation of later expanding it.

Additionally, Peralez requests that the city audit its gun regulations and analyze the causes of San Jose firearm-related deaths and injuries, including suicides, to determine where possible improvements could be made, including a potential mental health evaluation during a firearm permitting process.

In its official form, Raul Peralez’s proposal is somewhat vague; calling on the the city to “evaluate the City’s firearm regulatory policies and programs and commence a conversation around how addressing various social and psychological factors could play a larger role in firearm violence prevention.” But as the San Jose Mercury News report makes clear, Peralez is already hinting that he’d like to see a psych evaluation for gun owners, though the reference to a “firearm permitting process” makes it unclear whether Peralez is referring to potential gun buyers or those applying for a concealed carry permit.

As my colleague John Petrolino reported not long ago, California’s “may issue” concealed carry permitting law does allow for localities to impose a mental health evaluation as part of the application process, though the vast majority of the issuing agencies in the state do not require one.

The impetus for Peralez’s proposal was the May shooting at a San Jose railyard in which nine people were murdered by a co-worker, and his recommendation to create additional mental health resources and a campaign to encourage city workers to take advantage of existing programs isn’t that controversial. Forcing all legal gun buyers or carry permit applicants to undergo a mental health evaluation, on the other hand, would undoubtably trigger a lawsuit.

Peralez’s proposal also isn’t likely to have any real effect on violent crime in the city if it is eventually implemented. There are just a handful of active carry permits in Santa Clara County, and Sheriff Laurie Smith’s office has been rocked by allegations that officials engaged in an pay-to-play scheme; offering to approve permits for several individuals after they donated goods and cash to the sheriff’s department and an “independent” campaign pushing for Smith’s re-election.

Given the fact that the average resident can’t obtain a carry permit as it is, I’m not sure what Peralez thinks would be accomplished by putting up another barrier between them and their Second Amendment rights. It might be an appealing proposition for the vast majority of residents in the city who aren’t gun owners, but that doesn’t mean it would be constitutional or effective at reducing violent crime.

Peralez’s proposal is expected to go before the full City Council in a couple of weeks, but in the meantime he and his colleagues still have to figure out how they’re going to try to implement the ordinances they unanimously approved a couple of months ago requiring gun owners to pay a fee to the city and purchase liability insurance. At the moment, it looks like those running the city have no problem dreaming up new infringements on the right to keep and bear arms, but are finding it much harder to turn their dreams into a logistical and constitutional nightmare for gun owners.