San Jose mayor proposes 1st-in-nation insurance requirement for gun owners

Two weeks after a mass shooting at the Garlic Gilroy Festival where two San Jose families lost loved ones, San Jose's mayor on Monday proposed a first-in-the-nation legislative idea where the city would require all firearm owners to carry liability insurance for their weapons.

Under Sam Liccardo's proposal, the insurance would include coverage for any accidental discharge of the gun and for the intentional acts of any third parties who steal, borrow, or otherwise acquire the gun. The insurance won't cover the liability of the policyholder for his or her own intentional conduct.  

Separately, Liccardo said that his staff will also explore if voters would want to put a measure on the ballot that would impose a tax on all ammunition and firearm purchases in the San Jose.

Liccardo made the announcements first on Mornings on 2. 

 "A mayor doesn't have the luxury of just offering ‘thoughts and prayers,'"  Liccardo said. "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." Two bills that would tighten up background checks have passed in the House, but have stalled in the Senate, which is on recess until September. 

Some critics fear this proposed step is the next step in an effort to squelch gun ownership. 

"I think this could be seen by gun owners who are doing everything legally, as a punishment," said Johnny Khamis, the San Jose city council representative from the 10th District.

The National Rifle Association went a step further saying in an emailed statement to KTVU: "Criminals are already ignoring California's more than 800 gun laws, so it's doubtful many of them would rush out and get liability insurance. This is another tax on law-abiding gun owners." 

Liccardo's proposal comes after Keyla Salazar, 13, and Stephen Romero, 6, both of San Jose, were killed at the festival in Gilroy on July 28. A third victim, Trevor Irby, 25, was also killed by gunman Santino Legan, 19, who ended up killing himself. 

In discussing the insurance plan, Liccardo noted that under the current Supreme Court rulings, the 2nd Amendment protects the right to keep and bear arms.

"However," Liccardo added, "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." 

He said that those gun owners who couldn't buy liability insurance could pay a fee to compensate taxpayers for the public costs. Some of these taxpayer-funded costs include: Firefighters, paramedics, rehab services, prosecution and police. 

In addition to an insurance-or-fee mandate, Liccardo also proposed: 
-- 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.
-- Exploring a consent-to-search program for youth, which would allow parents to consent to have local law enforcement search a juvenile's person or their property,
-- Creating a program that would offer cash rewards to anyone who reports someone who possesses unlawfully obtained guns or weapons.

Liccardo's office added that they have not yet put a dollar amount on what would be generated. A large part of the proposal is working with stakeholders to determine the true cost of gun violence. 

The mayor said he based his design of penalties for noncompliance on a California Vehicle Code section, which provides fines and other penalties for the misdemeanor of operating a vehicle without insurance. 

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," Liccardo said. "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." 

That parallel seemed to make sense to U.S.. Rep. Ro Khanna (D-CA 17th District), who tweeted, "The costs of gun violence are far too high. If you need to have insurance to drive an automobile and follow safety guidelines, then why shouldn't you need insurance to operate and keep a gun safely?"

Liccardo acknowledged that mandatory gun insurance is just one of many steps required to protect his city from gun violence. For instance, he is fully aware that the "bad guys" aren't going to follow the law and get gun insurance. Still, he said, violating the insurance ordinance would give police "one more tool" in curbing rampant gun use and abuse. 

 "With this measure, we won't suddenly end gun violence," he said. "But we're going to stop paying for it." 

The mayor will submit his proposal to the city Rules Committee on  Aug. 21. If three of five members vote in favor, then the city would conduct Nexus Study to link gun violence with increased costs to the city.