SAN JOSE – Mayor Sam Liccardo recently proposed a city ordinance that would require all firearm owners in San José to carry liability insurance for their weapons, the first such requirement in the nation.
Those gun owners unable to purchase liability insurance could pay a fee to compensate taxpayers for the public costs of firearm violence in America’s tenth largest city.
Two weeks after San José families lost two children in the recent Gilroy shooting, Liccardo observed that “A mayor doesn’t have the luxury of just offering ‘thoughts and prayers’—we have to solve problems. While this is far from a complete solution, it is something we can do to reduce the harms of firearms, without waiting for Congress to take action.” said Liccardo.
“Under current Supreme Court rulings, the second amendment to the US Constitution protects the right to keep and bear arms. However, the Constitution does not require taxpayers to subsidize that individual choice. The cost of city police and emergency services required to address gun violence should be paid by gun owners, not all taxpayers,” continued Liccardo.
Liccardo compared his approach to the successful “harm reduction” strategies that have helped dramatically lower smoking rates and deaths and injuries from automobile accidents.
“We require motorists to carry automobile insurance, and the insurance industry appropriately encourages and rewards safe driver behavior. We tax tobacco consumption both to discourage risky behavior and to make sure non-smokers are not forced to subsidize the substantial public health costs generated by smoking-related illnesses and deaths. These successful public health models inspire a similar “harm reduction” approach for firearms,” Liccardo said.
“As Silicon Valley’s largest city, if we prove up this innovative solution and scale it across other cities and states, the history of “harm reduction” efforts instructs that we can make a long-term impact,” Liccardo added.
In addition to an insurance-or-fee mandate, Liccardo also proposed:
1. Imposing gun and ammunition sales taxes to help fund gun safety classes, gun violence prevention programs and additional victim assistance services for survivors of gun violence,
2. Exploring a consent-to-search program for juveniles, which would allow parents to consent to have local law enforcement search a juvenile’s person or their property,
3. Creating a program that would offer cash rewards to anyone who reports someone who possesses unlawfully-obtained guns or weapons.
The Mayor has based his design of penalties for non-compliance on California Vehicle Code Section 16209, which provides fines and other penalties for the misdemeanor of operating a vehicle without insurance.
Liccardo acknowledged that mandatory firearm insurance was just one of many steps required to protect his city from gun violence. “With this measure, we won’t suddenly end gun violence. But we’re going to stop paying for it,” added Liccardo, referring to what he calls the “gun violence subsidy” paid by the public for individuals’ gun ownership.
California Assembly member David Chiu, a leading voice for sensible gun policy, added, “Since Trump and his Republican allies have abdicated their responsibility to address our country’s gun violence crisis, cities and states must lead, and I applaud Mayor Liccardo and San Jose’s bold leadership on this innovative solution.”
If gun owners are unable to purchase private insurance for any reason, Liccardo’s proposal offers the option of a fee in lieu of insurance paid for by firearm owners. Such a payment would need to be protected by the highest privacy standards, such as blockchain technology, to be compliant with California state law that precludes local governments from establishing gun registries.
“The privacy technology already exists to enforce compliance without creating a public registry,” Liccardo noted.
Liccardo said he will reach out to his fellow mayors in California and throughout the nation to encourage them to pass similar legislation.
“Just like restrictions against smoking in offices and restaurants started in cities and spread widely, we hope by this effort we can promote a national model of harm reduction to reduce gun violence,” Liccardo concluded.
KEY ELEMENTS OF MAYOR LICCARDO’S PROPOSAL
1. Insurance for All San José Gun Owners: A local ordinance that would require all firearm owners in San José — other than sworn employees of law enforcement agencies–to carry liability insurance for their weapons, the first such requirement in the nation.
a. Insurance would cover: coverage for accidental discharge of the gun, and for the intentional acts of third parties who steal, borrow, or otherwise acquire the gun.
b. Insurance wouldn’t cover: the liability of the policyholder for his or her own intentional conduct.
2. A Fee to Address the “Gun Violence Subsidy”: Where insurance is not available, or as an alternative to an insurance mandate, staff will explore how the City might require gun owners to pay a per-household fee to participate in a public compensation pool to eliminate the public cost — a taxpayers subsidy — of gun violence resulting from private ownership. These costs include:
a. Emergency medical response provided by the San Jose Fire Department, and public-funded transport by American Medical Response;
b. Hospitalization and treatment provided by Valley Medical Center and other public hospitals, and funded by MediCal or other public sources;
c. Rehabilitation and physical therapy funded by public sources;
d. Incident response by San Jose Police Department;
e. Expenditures by state-funded Victim-Witness Assistance Center programs for funeral services, counseling, and other expenses;
f. Prosecution expenses by the County District Attorney’s Office; and
g. Any other expenses foreseeably borne by taxpayers for gun violence.
3. A Gun and Ammunition Tax: Separately, staff will explore citywide polling for a measure that would impose a tax on all ammunition and firearm purchases in the City.
a. Explore regional options: Staff will engage with the County and surrounding cities to explore pursuing a regional tax to fund gun safety classes, violence prevention programs, and additional victim assistance services for survivors of gun violence.
4. Taking Guns Out and Other Weapons Out Of Dangerous Hands:
a. Evaluate, in partnership with the District Attorney’s office, a consent-to-search program that would enable parents to allow San José Police Department to search their homes for any weapons owned by their dependents, and to seize those weapons, in exchange for an agreement not to prosecute the dependent for unlawful possession of the firearm or weapon.
b. Explore a bounty program that would offer cash rewards to anonymous tipsters who identified unlawful possessors of firearms (e.g., those with prior felony convictions or domestic violence restraining orders).
5. Legislative Advocacy: Identify as legislative priority advocacy for a statewide insurance-based approach to “harm reduction” from guns.
Further urge legislation that removes potential obstacles to local solutions such as these, including barring any legal claims asserting state preemption over a locally-enacted insurance- or fee-based approach.