Controversial San Jose gun insurance law faces another legal challenge

Taxpayer organizations are pushing back at the law’s fee requirement

by Grace Hase | March 16, 2022 

The Mercury News masthead - black text on white background: The Mercury News

SAN JOSE — A first-of-its-kind law requiring gun owners to insure their firearms is facing yet another legal challenge — this time from one of the state’s largest taxpayer organizations.

In January, San Jose became the first U.S. city to require residents to carry liability insurance for their weapons and pay a fee to help reduce gun violence in the city. But within minutes of its passage by the San Jose City Council, a lawsuit was filed in federal court by the National Association for Gun Rights and San Jose resident Mark Sikes, arguing the law is “patently unconstitutional.”

Now, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, along with the Silicon Valley Public Accountability Foundation, the Silicon Valley Taxpayers Association and residents James Barry and George Arrington are following suit. The fiscal oversight organizations filed their lawsuit in Santa Clara County Superior Court last week.

While the legal challenge from the National Association for Gun Rights argues that the law infringes on the constitutional right to bear arms — along with a slew of other complaints about the city not proving it will prevent gun violence — the taxpayer groups are taking aim at the city’s fee requirement.

The law is expected to take effect in August, and when it does, gun-owning residents will be required to pay a $25 to $35 fee on top of purchasing insurance. A nonprofit organization, which is in the process of being set up, will manage and distribute the funds to suicide-prevention programs, fire-arm safety training and gender-based violence services, according to the ordinance.

While the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association usually isn’t embattled in debates over gun rights, Tim Bittle, the group’s director of legal affairs, said they step in “anytime government tells citizens they have to part with their money.”

“Our interest is not in the right to own guns,” Bittle said. “But we’re very concerned about the potential precedent that could be set by this unusual requirement that gun owners pay a fee to a private nonprofit organization, which then has control of how the revenue of the fee gets spent.”

In the complaint, the organizations argue the fee actually is a tax, which requires two-thirds voter approval by the California Constitution. They also allege that it violates free speech rights since gun owners are required to pay a fee to a nonprofit and “fund their message” against their will.

In response to the newly-filed lawsuit, Mayor Sam Liccardo said in a statement that “no good deed goes unlitigated.” The mayor has previously said he expects legal challenges, but that the city has “spent nearly two years in deep discussion with legal experts throughout the country and here locally about how we could fashion an ordinance that would be constitutional, enforceable and have the impact of reducing the risk of gun violence and gun harm in our community.”

Liccardo has been a strong proponent of insuring guns since he first introduced the idea in 2019 following the mass shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival where a gunman killed three people — including two San Jose children. He renewed his efforts last summer in wake of the Bay Area’s deadliest mass shooting at the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority rail yard.

A spokesperson for the mayor said the city was served with the lawsuit this afternoon.

George Mocsary, a law professor at the University of Wyoming and Second Amendment expert, believes the San Jose law may be on shaky legal ground — both from a constitutional and insurance standpoint.

“They’re charging a fee to exercise a constitutional right and the people they’re making pay for it are not causing the harm,” he said.

Mocsary said several cities have tried to pass similar laws in the past but had been unsuccessful in navigating the legal waters.

“It’s just a strange law and it’s a strange way to attempt to combat gun violence,” he said.

Click here to read the article at the web site of San Jose Mercury News.

© 2024, Silicon Valley Taxpayers Association | 760 Newhall Drive, no. 1150, San Jose, CA 95110 | | 408-279-5000
Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software