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San Jose VTA shooting

A woman weeps during a May 27, 2021 City Hall vigil as she kneels by a makeshift memorial for the nine people killed the previous day in a mass shooting at a Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) light rail yard in San José, California. (Photo: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images) 

San José Set to Pass First-in-Nation Gun Liability Insurance Law

"This will truly save lives," said gun control advocates Moms Demand Action.

Brett Wilkins

In what one gun control advocate called "a victory for gun safety," the San José City Council voted Tuesday to advance a measure that would make the city the first in the nation to require firearm owners to carry liability insurance and pay a yearly fee.

"Whether you're pro-guns or anti-guns, no one can argue that we have substantial injury in our community and substantial issues that need to be addressed."

The San Jose Mercury News reported that in two separate votes, the council preliminarily approved an ordinance to address the detrimental use of firearms "by requiring gun owners to obtain and maintain liability insurance" and pay an annual "harm reduction fee." 

Addressing critics' claims that criminals will simply ignore the new law, San José Mayor Sam Liccardo, a Democrat, said in a statement that "while the Second Amendment protects every citizen's right to own a gun, it does not require taxpayers to subsidize that right."

"We have seen how insurance has reduced auto fatalities over several decades, for example, by incentivizing safer driving and the purchase of cars equipped with airbags and antilock brakes," Liccardo added. "Similarly, gun liability insurance available today on the market can adjust premiums to encourage gun owners to use gun safes, install trigger-locks, and take gun safety classes."

Ewan Barker Plummer, volunteer leader with the Bay Area chapter of the gun control group Students Demand Action, called the vote in the nation's 10th-largest city "a victory for gun safety."

"We all want a safer San José, a safer California, and a safer nation," Barker Plummer told The San Francisco Chronicle. "With this approach, we can move closer to that goal."

Esther Peralez-Dieckmann, executive director of NextDoor Solutions to Domestic Violence, told the Mercury News that the proposed law will address gun violence "from a public health standpoint and in the end, make our community safer."

"Whether you're pro-guns or anti-guns, no one can argue that we have substantial injury in our community and substantial issues that need to be addressed," she said. 

Liccardo proposed the measure last June after 10 people including the gunman were killed in a May 26, 2021 mass shooting at a Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority railyard in the city. 

"Cities have learned too well that we cannot wait for Congress to act to protect our residents from gun violence and harm; we must step up," he said. "The two components of this initiative—requiring liability insurance and the investment of gun fees into violence-reduction programs—utilize long-established public health approaches to reducing harm in other contexts."

The proposed ordinance notes that "each year more than 23,000 United States residents die by firearm suicide, 14,000 die by firearm homicide, and nearly 500 die from unintentional firearm injuries," and that "in California, between 2005 and 2015, nearly 4,000 children and teenagers were killed or injured with firearms, and 533 children and teenagers committed suicide with firearms."

"We can reduce a lot of harm and tragedy and pain, even if we're not going to magically make a gun fall out of the hands of the crook." 

Liccardo said the $25 annual fee "will directly support community-based organizations employing evidence-based gun harm-reduction initiatives, including domestic violence and suicide prevention programs, drug and mental health treatment, and gun safety classes."

"Overwhelmingly, gun owners and their families will benefit most from those programs," he claimed, "because the services will be focused to reduce risks of harm precisely where that risk is greatest: in households with guns."

"The point is," the mayor told the Mercury News, "we can reduce a lot of harm and tragedy and pain, even if we're not going to magically make a gun fall out of the hands of the crook." 

If the new ordinance is approved on a second reading on February 8, it will become law on August 8. Gun rights advocates say they will challenge the new law in court. 

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