San Jose's insurance mandate for gun owners is having some problems

AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

In January of last year the San Jose city council approved an ordinance they touted as the first of its kind; requiring legal gun owners in the city to purchase a liability insurance policy as well as paying an annual fee in order to simply possess a gun in the home.

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The ordinance is facing a legal challenge, but courts have declined to block the measure from taking effect, and as of January 1st, 2023 the insurance mandate has been enforceable within the city limits. So far, however, the city says no one’s been cited for violating the law.

A year ago, [then-San Jose mayor Sam] Liccardo praised the unprecedented council actions to require gun insurance and to charge all gun owners a “gun harm reduction fee” as “common-sense solutions to reduce gun harm, and to shift the financial burdens from taxpayers and victims, back to gun owners.”

The ordinance was officially approved on a second read on Feb. 8, 2022. An original effective date of Aug. 8 was pushed back to Jan. 1, 2023.

Liccardo estimated that the $25 fees would yield $1.3 million, to be collected by a non-profit foundation established to distribute all fee revenue to community-based programs focused on reducing gun violence. That revenue estimate was based on 100% participation of the city’s estimated 52,000 gun-owning households – one of every 15 city adults.

As of Feb. 28, no gun fee money has been collected, and no gun owner has been fined for failure to obtain gun insurance, according to the city manager’s office.

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The problems with the new law don’t stop there. That “gun harm reduction fee” was supposed to take effect at the same time, but the rollout is still months away according to the city. Under the plan approved by the city council, the money collected from those fees doesn’t go to the city itself, but rather a third-party group that’s supposed to dispense the cash to local gun violence prevention groups. Though the city has had more than a year to implement this supposedly must-needed measure, officials have yet to work out the most basic details.

The city hasn’t written or distributed a Request for Proposals seeking a non-profit to administer the new fees, but said it expects the requests to be distributed sometime this spring. When asked for an estimate of when implementation of the fee system might occur, the manager’s office could only say “in the 2023 calendar year.”

I can’t help but think that the real value of the ordinance for city council members was being able to say they “did something” by approving the insurance requirement and mandatory fee for gun owners. Actually implementing the ordinance doesn’t seem to be of nearly as much importance to the council members as the headline-generating vote to create it; a strange phenomenon if the members who supported the measure truly believe that it will make a difference in terms of public safety and not just public relations.

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Regardless of their reasoning, the reality is that San Jose’s newest gun control measure appears to be mostly ignored; not only by gun owners in the city, but by those responsible for enforcing the law as well. Given that, it’s a wonder that the city is still defending the ordinance in federal court, but I guess there are still some headlines to be gleaned from “fighting to keep this common sense measure in place” even its largely unenforceable, completely ineffective, and flagrantly unconstitutional.

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