Federal Judge Upholds Novel San Jose Gun Law Requiring Gun Owners to Carry Liability Insurance to Cover Accidental Shootings

PC: Thomas Def
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By Crescenzo Vellucci

The Vanguard Sacramento Bureau Chief

SAN JOSE, CA –  A federal court judge late last week dismissed a challenge by gun rights groups to what some describe as a first-of-its-kind law, a San José ordinance that requires gun owners to carry liability insurance for accidental shootings involving their firearms.

The San Jose law ordinance has been “widely praised by gun regulation advocates and others as a common-sense measure to help stem the increasing toll of gun-related deaths and injuries,” according to lawyers defending the city from the National Association for Gun Rights, which asked the court to hold the ordinance unconstitutional.

San Jose is the first municipality in the U.S. to impose liability insurance rules on gun owners—supporters contend the requirements will encourage safer firearm handling.

In a 23-page decision issued, U.S. District Court Judge Beth Labson Freeman permanently dismissed most of the gun rights group’s challenges to the ordinance, including their claim that the insurance mandate violates their Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. 

According to the City’s lawyers, the judge applied a “new test announced last year by the U.S. Supreme Court in New York State Rifle and Pistol Association v. Bruen,” ruling the insurance mandate did not violate the Second Amendment “for multiple independent reasons, including…it was consistent with the nation’s long-standing ‘historical tradition’ of shifting the costs of firearm accidents from the victims to the firearms’ owners.”

The judge allowed the challengers another chance to re-file their complaint as to another part of the San Jose ordinance requiring gun owners in the city pay an annual $25 fee to fund efforts to prevent gun-related injuries. 

“Judge Freeman did so after concluding that the plaintiffs’ First Amendment challenge to the $25 fee was not currently ‘ripe’ for decision because the City is still working to implement the fee requirement, which is not presently being enforced,” said the City.

Sam Liccardo, the former Mayor of San José who led efforts to pass the ordinance, said, “Judge Freeman’s order is a victory for San José and cities throughout the nation. The gun lobby’s grip over Congress and state legislatures leaves it to local leaders to offer our families something more than ‘hopes and prayers,’ and we need to press ahead with more innovative solutions to reduce the relentless human toll of gun violence in our communities.”

Nora Frimann, the City Attorney of San Jose, said, “This decision affirms that there are constitutional ways to provide protections from gun-related harms, such as liability insurance, for the public and gun owners. We believe that this decision will inform the work of other local and state entities working on gun safety initiatives.”

Tamarah P. Prevost, a partner at the law firm Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, which is defending the City of San Jose against the lawsuit, said, “The Court’s well-reasoned decision confirms that it is possible to draft legislation that is both constitutional and sensibly aimed at preventing the epidemic of gun violence; that is what the City of San José law does here. This is the correct result and a critical moment in the broader conversation about gun violence.”

And, Andrew F. Kirtley, also a partner at Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy, stated, “We applaud the City for having the courage to pass this ordinance, and we are pleased with this significant new decision upholding the constitutionality of the insurance requirement. We have been honored to represent the City of San José in this important litigation, and we look forward to continuing to do so.”

Calling the ruling a “major blow to pro-gun groups,” a story in the San Jose Mercury News noted not only did the NAGR take a hit, but the “Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, which argued that it was unconstitutional and burdensome and that San Jose had failed to prove it would reduce gun violence.”

In the Thursday ruling, Judge Freeman said the city “had demonstrated that the Insurance Requirement is consistent with the Nation’s historical traditions” and did not violate the Second Amendment.  

In a statement, the city of San Jose wrote the ruling “affirms that there are constitutional ways to provide protections from gun-related harms, such as liability insurance, for the public and gun owners. We believe that this decision will inform the work of other local and state entities working on gun safety initiatives.”

The city’s “Gun Harm Reduction Ordinance” requires San Jose’s estimated 55,000 gun owners to purchase a firearm, homeowner’s or renter’s liability insurance policy to cover any damages resulting from accidental or negligent use. 

The nonprofit fee charged the gun owners could net the city more than $1 million a year, which could be augmented by fines of up to $1,000 for residents who don’t follow the insurance requirements. 

About The Author

Disclaimer: the views expressed by guest writers are strictly those of the author and may not reflect the views of the Vanguard, its editor, or its editorial board.

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