November 20, 2022
San Jose gun owners—get ready to comply with the city’s new gun ordinance in January.
Starting next year, all San Jose gun owners will be required to have insurance that covers firearm damage or accidental discharge. It’s part of the city’s new gun harm reduction ordinance—a controversial, first-of-its-kind law that seeks to reduce gun incidents by mandating liability insurance and collecting an annual fee from gun owners. The annual fees will be used to fund programs that address suicide prevention, mental health and addiction services and firearms safety training or victim compensation.
San Jose households with a firearm will need to have a homeowner’s, renter’s or gun liability insurance policy for their firearms. The city is still devising plans to collect the annual fee, which is tentatively set at $25. San Jose will begin collecting once the city selects a nonprofit to manage the money.
Mayor Sam Liccardo, who designed the policy, said it was a good step toward making San Jose safer from gun violence. According to his office, more than 200 people are killed or injured by gunfire in San Jose each year. Fatal and nonfatal gun shootings on San Jose residents cost $995 million in 2019-20, Liccardo said.
“Gun insurance incentivizes safer behavior,” Liccardo told San José Kollig. “Just as drivers with car insurance received discounts on their premiums for having safe driving records in the 1990s, getting a car with anti-lock brakes, or getting a car with airbags in the 1980s, so insurance can incentivize gun owners to own guns safety classes, make sure their guns have chamber load indicators, buy gun safes and get trigger locks.”
How does it work?
A San Jose resident’s liability insurance policy must cover loss or damage resulting from the accidental use of a firearm, including but not limited to death, injury or property damage. There is no mandatory minimum coverage.
“Firearm owners have the option of meeting the liability insurance requirement through homeowners insurance or renters insurance policies that provide liability coverage,” city spokeswoman Kristen Van Kley told San José Kollig. “Homeowners and renters insurance is widely available from many different insurers in California.”
Gun owners must fill out an insurance attestation form and have a policy in effect by January 1st. The form must also be with the firearm at all times as proof of compliance. Discovering a firearm without the form will trigger a police report and may result in administrative citations, with fees starting at $250.
The only San Jose gun owners exempt from the insurance requirement are police officers and those with concealed carry permits, according to city documents. Low-income gun owners can apply for a waiver.
“There should be little burden for gun owners since most home and renters insurance policies already cover what is required by law, or else a rider can be purchased at little or no cost to the policyholder,” Liccardo said. “Gun owners will simply have to confirm that they have such insurance.”
But the issue of coverage can be more complicated. Councilors Maya Esparza and Dev Davis previously said most insurance agencies they spoke to told them only accidental firings outside of a household could potentially be covered. Negligence or criminal behavior would not.
“I talked to two insurance agents, including my own from different companies and neither of them said that negligent use is specifically covered in their policies,” Davis said. “I’m still not sure how we can require a specific type of insurance that doesn’t exist.”
Liccardo originally proposed the idea after the 2019 Gilroy Garlic Festival shooting that claimed the lives of three children. Things stalled when COVID-19 hit in March 2020, but Liccardo brought the idea back in May 2021 after the mass shooting at the VTA light rail yard in downtown San Jose. The ordinance passed nearly unanimously in February and has received support from groups like Moms Demand Action and other organizations advocating for gun reform.
The ordinance was also highly contested. Its implementation has been delayed as the city has dealt with several lawsuits from gun rights activists and taxpayer associations. In August, a federal judge ruled against blocking San Jose’s gun law, so the city moved forward with implementation. So far, the court has dismissed nine of the ten claims filed by two litigants, and a third plaintiff has withdrawn their case, according to Liccardo.
However, San Jose is not out of the woods yet. Sam Paredes, executive director of Gun Owners of California, said his organization and a coalition of Second Amendment advocates plan to sue the city once the law is implemented. They oppose the ordinance because it infringes on their right to bear arms by placing barriers and mandating that gun owners pay to exercise that right. He also said he believed the gun insurance would have “zero impact” on reducing gun violence.
“This law is just not going to prevent criminal abuse,” Paredes said. “What it will do is make it a little more difficult and more cumbersome for some of the people in lower income areas of San Jose — those people who live where crime is more frequent — to own a gun.”
Contact Jana Kadah at firstname.lastname@example.org or @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.
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