Activists unhappy with fine print in new gun control law

Earlier today my colleague Tom Knighton covered CNN’s surprising admission that San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo and the city council oversold the impact of new local ordinances requiring legal gun owners to carry insurance policies and pay an annual fee in order to legally keep a gun in the home.

Kudos to CNN for covering this fact, inconvenient as it might be for the gun control lobby. And on today’s Bearing Arms Cam & Co, we’re taking a look at how those gun control activists are reacting to the news that the measures won’t actually do much at all.

In San Jose, city leaders say gun liability insurance will work like auto insurance by incentivizing safe behavior through lower premiums for responsible gun owners. They also claim that requiring insurance will offset the cost of the city’s gun violence to taxpayers, which was recently estimated at nearly $40 million a year. “We believe we can better, more equitably distribute that cost and reduce the harm from guns,” said Mayor Sam Liccardo, who first proposed the insurance measure after a series of mass shootings in 2019.

But as we pored over the particulars of San Jose’s ordinance and interviewed insurance experts, we found that the plan may end up not being as effective as proponents have advertised: It will only cover shootings that occur under a narrow and specific set of circumstances, providing little incentive for gun owners to adopt safer practices.

Basically, the new ordinance only covers accidental shootings, not intentional acts of violence, and the Michael Bloomberg-funded website The Trace discovered that almost every homeowners and renters insurance policy already covers accidents, whether or not a firearm is involved.

The Trace implicitly accuses San Jose’s mayor of hyping up the insurance requirement, noting that Liccardo had boasted that insurance companies would soon be asking policyholders about their gun storage habits and training background, which he claimed would lead to gun owners becoming more responsible with their firearms. And yet…

According to the Pacific Institute study, San Jose has an average of two unintentional shooting deaths per year. The nonprofit Gun Violence Archive, meanwhile, has recorded just three unintentional shootings in San Jose since 2015, resulting in two deaths and two injuries. Those figures may be an undercount — GVA bases its tallies on news and police reports, which can be incomplete — but even so, none of those shootings would have been covered by San Jose’s gun owners insurance because they all resulted in criminal charges.

According to [law professor George] Mocsary, the rarity of unintentional shootings make the odds of ever paying out on a claim so low that “the insurance companies just don’t care.” “They’ve already had the opportunity to do the actuarial math on this, and they found that it makes no difference,” he added. If risky gun behaviors affected their bottom line, insurers would already be asking about them. “And they don’t,” he said.

That contradicts a major selling point of the ordinance: the claim that risk-adjusted premiums will encourage gun owners to take safety courses and invest in gun safes, trigger locks, or chamber-load indicators.

Another issue with San Jose’s ordinance? While Liccardo and supporters claimed that the new ordinance would somehow cut down on kids who accidentally shoot themselves with an unsecured firearm, The Trace notes that the homeowners and renters insurance policies that the city is now requiring typically do not cover accidental shootings involving family members, only guests to the home.

There’s a reason for this exclusion, said Kochenburger, the insurance law expert at the University of Connecticut. A homeowners policy covers not just the policyholder but also relatives who live in the home, and insurers don’t want to incentivize policyholders to file fraudulent claims on intentional injuries to others in the home.

That significantly reduces the number of people who’d benefit from gun liability insurance. It’s also contrary to how the law has been characterized by city officials in public documents and in interviews. “We live in a nation in which 4.6 million children live in a household where a gun is kept unlocked and loaded,” Liccardo wrote in a January memo to the City Council, “and 72 percent of gun injuries occur at home, resulting in too many child victims.” But homeowners and renters insurance plans won’t cover the vast majority of unintentional child shootings.

So that leaves us with the $25 annual fee that Mayor Liccardo wants every gun owner to pay; not to the city of San Jose itself (which would be problematic enough), but to an “independent” third party that will collect the money and disperse it in the form of grants to various non-profits and community groups, without any oversight whatsoever on the part of city officials. This is nothing more than a Second Amendment “sin tax”, and I suspect that the city is going to have as difficult a time defending it in court as it will in actually collecting cash from gun owners, many of whom are simply not going to comply.

Yes, San Jose’s ordinances are “novel”, “unique,” and “first of their kind”… but that doesn’t make them necessary or of any value to anyone who’s not elected to office in a deep-blue city. It also doesn’t make them constitutionally sound, though given the anti-gun ideology within the Ninth Circuit, it might be up to the Supreme Court to set San Jose straight on the limits of their power and authority when it comes to the peoples’ right to keep and bear arms.