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San Jose gun owners will soon be required to purchase insurance for their weapons and pay an annual fee to the city under an ordinance approved by the San Jose City Council.

The ordinance, which still faces a second vote next month to be ratified and go into effect, will require gun owners to pay an annual fee of roughly $25 as well as administrative costs to the city.

Under the ordinance, which was approved Tuesday, revenue from the fees would go toward a not-yet-created nonprofit foundation, which will subsequently dole out funds to private organizations that seek to reduce domestic and gun violence.

Gun owners will also be required to maintain liability insurance in the event their gun is used in accidental and unintentional shootings.

The council approved both policies separately, by a 10-1 vote for the insurance requirement and an 8-3 vote for the annual fee.

City Councilman Matt Mahan called for the bifurcated vote, expressing concern that the city has limited legal authority under the ordinance to direct how a private organization uses the fee revenue.

“I feel that this fee and the operation of the nonprofits that are funded by it is going to become another course of status reports and study sessions and discussion and debate and a lot of mindshare on the council alongside everything else that we’re trying to get done,” he said.

A response to tragedy

Mayor Sam Liccardo introduced the two proposals last June after a Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority employee killed nine of his co-workers and himself, arguing that the city should not be required to spend taxpayer revenue on services like law enforcement and emergency medical response to accidental shootings.

A study published in November by the Pacific Institute on Research and Evaluation found that San Jose taxpayers pay an average of $151 per year for each gun-owning household to support publicly funded services like shooting investigations and court processing in addition to medical response.

“Insurance can make gun owners and their families safer, and that makes us all safe.”

Mayor Sam Liccardo

When combined with the private costs to residents as a result of gun violence and crime, the study found that San Jose residents collectively spend an average of $442 million per year due to gun violence.

Between 50,000 and 55,000 San Jose households own at least one gun, according to the study. The ordinance’s fee would be charged per household and not per gun.

Liccardo has repeatedly equated the insurance requirement to motorists having car insurance, and argued that car insurance requirements have incentivized safer driving as well as the widespread use of features like anti-lock brakes.

That same logic, Liccardo has argued, will spur the wider use and innovation of gun safes, trigger locks and gun safety training.

“Insurance can make gun owners and their families safer,” he said Tuesday. “And that makes us all safe.”

Litigation likely

Gun rights advocacy groups have repeatedly threatened legal action against the city since Liccardo first introduced the ordinance, questioning the constitutionality of charging gun owners to exercise their right.

The National Foundation for Gun Rights — the legal division of the National Association for Gun Rights — sent a cease-and-desist letter to the council in July over the then-proposal.

In a statement Tuesday, the foundation promised “an expensive, drawn-out legal battle” over the ordinance.

“If gun grabbers get away with taxing the right to own a gun, every left-leaning local government across the country will quickly follow,” the foundation said.

The Firearms Policy Coalition also promised litigation against the city over the ordinance, calling it burdensome to gun owners and unconstitutional.

“Insurance companies cannot issue policies to insure against one’s unlawful acts, and the Second Amendment prohibits local governments from imposing such requirements on gun owners,” the FPC said in its statement. “All states and local governments must comply with the Bill of Rights and Fourteenth Amendment, period.”

While members of the council expressed hesitation over the potential legal battle, Liccardo said this week the city has an agreement with the law firm Cotchett, Pitre and McCarthy to represent the city, pro bono.

Liccardo also said that gun control advocacy groups like Everytown for Gun Safety and the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence have offered legal assistance.

The ordinance’s ratifying vote will be held at the council’s Feb. 8 meeting. If ratified, it will go into effect Aug. 8.