What happened to San Jose's insurance mandate for gun owners?

Beth LaBerge/KQED via AP, Pool

It’s been more than six months since the city council in San Jose, California unanimously approved a measure requiring all legal gun owners in the city to carry liability insurance and pay the city a fee for the “privilege” of exercising their Second Amendment rights, but so far the city hasn’t taken any concrete steps to start enforcing the ordinance or even explain to gun owners how they’re expected to comply with the unconstitutional mandate.

Still, the city clearly hasn’t given up on the idea, with Mayor Sam Liccardo touting the plan in his recent State of the City address.

We’re also finding novel ways to reduce gun violence in our community. In June, the council approved an ordinance to require gun stores to videotape sales to deter gangs and other criminal organizations from using straw purchasers to illegally acquire firearms. We’re also forging ahead with two groundbreaking proposals.

The first would require liability insurance for gun ownership in the same way that drivers are required to have auto insurance to compensate victims for harm. Just as auto insurance made driving safer by encouraging safer driving and airbags and ABS brakes, so too gun insurance can incentivize firearm safety classes, trigger locks, and gun safes. Each of those steps could make gun ownership safer in a nation in which 4.6 million children live in a home where guns are kept loaded and unlocked.

Second, I urged council to make San José the first city in the nation to require gun owners to pay fees to compensate taxpayers for the cost of police and emergency medical response to gunshots. While our Second Amendment protects the rights of Americans to own guns, it doesn’t mandate that taxpayers should subsidize that right, and gun violence response costs the city nearly $40 million per year and elicits a much higher human toll from our community.

We’ll get back to the mandatory insurance requirement in a second, but I have to briefly pivot to Liccardo’s second proposal first. Do those who own cars pay special fees to fund the cost of those who illegally drive drunk? What about a special fee for those who keep alcohol in their homes? Do individuals with prescriptions for opioid-based pain medication have to pay a surcharge to help cover the cost of all of the overdose deaths in the city?

Of course not, and there’s no reason why legal gun owners should be forced to cough up cash to pay for the cost of criminal violence either.

As for the insurance mandate, Liccardo and others simply refuse to acknowledge the reality of their demands. Take the recent argument by Oregon attorney John Gear, who says he’s been pushing a similar idea for more than 20 years. In all that time, Gear’s apparently never reconciled his opinion with the fact that keeping and bearing arms is a right, not a privilege.

Mandatory insurance makes people be responsible for choices that impose risks on others. We must require gun owners at any instant (maker, seller or buyer) have liability insurance to cover any harms that weapon causes.

Insurance payouts would go to the crime victims’ compensation fund, whenever a crime involving guns is committed or a gun mishap occurs. The more victims, the bigger the payout. The greater the damage (from intimidation to multiple murders and permanent crippling), the greater the payout.

Insurers will also pay for other claims, such as when a minor commits suicide or kills a playmate with an unsecured weapon.

Insurance is very effective in getting people to adopt safe practices in return for lower premiums. And when gun crimes occur, the firm insuring it pays the claim. If no gun is found or the gun is uninsured, every fund will pay a pro-rated share of the claims based on how many guns they insure.

This will motivate insurers and responsible gun owners to treat uninsured guns as poison rather than an unavoidable result of the Second Amendment. Mandatory insurance will re-unite everyone’s interest in fighting the real problem with guns: guns in the hands of criminals, the reckless, the untrained, and juveniles.

Holding legal gun owners responsible for the illegal actions of criminals, in other words. And this is supposed to unite gun owners? Maybe in opposition to this proposal, but certainly not in support.

I wonder if Gear or Mayor Sam Liccardo are cool with charging people money for a photo ID they must show before they can vote? I’ve been told that a requirement like that is a flagrant violation of people’s right to vote, which makes me wonder how these anti-gun activists can so blithely decide that making gun owners pay for far more expensive insurance premiums isn’t an infringement of the rights protected by the Second Amendment.

Actually, I think I know the answer. They just don’t care if their demands violate anyone’s rights, and they don’t really see the Second Amendment as protecting a real right at all.

The courts (and the vast majority of the American public) disagree, of course, and if San Jose does manage to get its insurance mandate off the ground this year, it won’t be long before the first lawsuits are filed and the ordinance is hopefully smacked down. Until the courts make it crystal clear that these types of mandates are unconstitutional on their face, however, we’re going to see more anti-gun activists around the country try to enact another bureaucratic barrier between us and our right to keep and bear arms.