California City Enacts Nation’s 1st Firearm Insurance Requirement

By: - January 26, 2022 12:00 am

San Jose Democratic Mayor Sam Liccardo views a memorial to the victims of a May mass shooting at a local railyard. The Silicon Valley city is the first in the nation to require gun owners to carry liability insurance. Haven Daley/The Associated Press

San Jose, California, this week became the first city in the country to require gun owners to have liability insurance coverage and to pay an annual fee. The city of 1 million residents will use those fees to invest in gun violence prevention measures.

The new ordinance, which the San Jose City Council overwhelmingly approved and Democratic Mayor Sam Liccardo signed, is a rare, municipal-led effort to combat gun violence. Only eight states, including California, allow local governments to pass gun ordinances that are tighter than state restrictions. The new measure, which takes effect in August, likely will spark legal challenges.

Facing a rise in firearm-related violence nationwide and a lack of action from Congress, gun safety proponents have called on states to allow cities to pass stricter gun laws.

“Cities have learned too well that we cannot wait for Congress to act to protect our residents from gun violence and harm; we must step up,” Liccardo said in a news conference before the vote.

Gun violence, he added, has devastated his community. The city has faced three mass shootings in the past three years, including in May when a gunman killed nine people, including himself, in a railyard.

In an interview with Stateline in November, Liccardo said he expected other cities to soon follow in San Jose’s footsteps once it enacted the measure and likely went to court to defend against legal challenges.

Gun rights groups oppose the measure, saying it infringes on gun owners’ Second Amendment rights. Gun Owners of California, a group that lobbies against gun control measures throughout the state, previously vowed to sue the city.

Around 55,000 households in San Jose have at least one registered gun. Proponents of the measure think requiring liability insurance will encourage local gun owners to seek personal gun safety practices—including taking safety courses and installing gun safes in their homes and trigger locks on their firearms—to lower their premiums. The liability insurance would cover damages from firearm use, including injury or property damage.

Gun violence costs San Jose taxpayers around $40 million annually, according to the nonprofit Pacific Institute on Research and Evaluation. This new measure’s $25 annual fee for gun owners seeks to fund gun violence prevention programs focused on domestic violence, suicide prevention and mental health treatment.

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Matt Vasilogambros
Matt Vasilogambros

Matt Vasilogambros covers voting rights, gun laws and Western climate policy for Stateline. He lives in San Diego, California.