Mayor, Councilmembers, District Attorney and community members fight for common sense gun control, revisit insurance ordinance

City of San JoseSan José continues to recover from a tragic mass shooting that took nine lives at the Santa Clara County Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) yard, yet in the 13 days since, San José has experienced 8 more gun-related acts of violence, including 3 more homicides, one officer-involved shooting of an individual armed with a handgun, and 4 shooting-related injuries.   Mayor Sam Liccardo, along with Vice Mayor Chappie Jones (D-1), Councilmembers Raul Peralez (D-3) (who was not present), David Cohen (D-4), Magdalena Carrasco (D-5), announced a series of proposals to undertake a common-sense “harm reduction” approach to gun violence. They were joined at a press conference by Santa Clara County District Attorney Jeff Rosen, Moms Demand Action volunteer Yvonne Murray, Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence Litigation AttorneyEsther Sanchez-Gomez, and Co-President of the Winchester/Cadillac Project Hope Association, Maria Ines Ortega.  

Among the proposals are two innovative approaches to gun safety that no city or state in the United States has yet implemented. First, with Council approval, San José would become the first city in the nation to require that every gun owner have liability insurance coverage for their firearms, to incentivize safer behavior from gun owners, and to compensate many injured victims.  Second, San José would become the first U.S. city to require gun owners to pay a fee to compensate taxpayers for the public cost of responding to gun-related injuries and death, such as for emergency medical and police response. Failure to comply with either of these mandates would subject the gun owner to the seizure of the weapon and potential fines. 

In addition, Mayor Liccardo announced that San José would invite cities throughout California to join San José on an amicus curiae brief to support the 9th Circuit appeal of the recent federal district court decision to invalidate California’s three-decade-old ban on assault weapons. 

The proposals include several other preventative, common-sense measures to reduce gun harm in the San José community, such as strengthening the effectiveness of gun violence restraining orders, preventing “straw purchases” of firearms, and requiring fingerprinting for ammunition purchases. It calls for a community-based, crowd-sourced prevention campaign that will enable community members to provide more timely intervention from mental health providers at the first signs of trouble. Finally, it urges a convening between local and federal law enforcement to more clearly understand communication protocols, and to identify the breakdown following U.S. Customs officials acquired information in 2016 about the high-risk nature of the assailant in the San José VTA yard shooting. 

Mayor Sam Liccardo observed that “In the nearly two weeks since the mass shooting that devastated the families, friends and coworkers of nine of our community members, San José has seen a spate of ongoing gun violence that has left us with more lives lost, more devastated families, more disabling injuries.”  Liccardo continued, “Cities cannot wait for Congress or the courts to protect their residents from gun violence–cities like San José feel the toll daily, and we need to take action.”  

The proposal covers an extensive array of common sense gun harm reduction actions, including: 

  • Reducing Gun Harm through an Insurance Mandate: Insurance-based mechanisms can encourage firearm owners to behave more safely–by taking safety classes, using gun safes, installing trigger locks–and can compensate injured victims.  Insurers have long used risk-adjusted premiums to reward good driving and incentivize use of airbags and other safety features, reducing per-mile auto fatalities by 80% in four decades. Similar approaches can mitigate gun risk, since4.6 million children live in a household where a gun is kept unlocked and loaded, and nearly 500 Americans also die from preventable, unintentional shootings every year, including many children. 
  • Reducing the Public Cost of Gun Violence: Direct costs of gun violence to California taxpayers for gunshot-related medical treatment, police response, ambulance transport, and the like exceeded $1.4 billion in 2018.  Taxpayers should not subsidize the cost of the harm resulting from gun use.  Requiring gun users to pay fees will help fund critical emergency medical and police response and reduce taxpayer burdens.  
  • Impounding Guns from Those Who Don’t Comply: Of course, criminals won’t obey these mandates. Yet together, these rules create a constitutionally-compliant mechanism to enable law enforcement to impound guns from high-risk individuals unwilling to follow the law. 
  • Gun Violence Restraining Orders (GVRO): Increasing public education, updating law enforcement training, and sponsoring state legislation to strengthen compliance with GVRO’s, and to enhance sanctions for willful violations. 
  • Assault Weapons Ban: San José invites other cities to join its amicus brief to support an appeal to the recent Miller v. Bonta decision, which overturned California’s 32-year-old ban on assault weapons.
  • Ghost Guns: San José will implement an ordinance to fill a gap in state law, making it illegal in San José to possess, manufacture, or assemble a “ghost gun” — an untraceable firearm, lacking any serial number, that owners can buy online and assemble at home.
  • Straw Purchasing and Suicide Prevention: In weeks, Council will consider a final ordinance requiring gun stores to video and audio-record all gun sale transactions to reduce the number of illicit straw-purchases, staff training, and posting of information about suicide prevention and access to mental health services.
  • Ammunition Checks: If pending federal litigation results in overturning the 2016 California mandate for background checks on all ammunition purchasers, San José will move forward on a specific mandate to require fingerprinting with all ammunition purchases.
  • “Looking Out for One Another”: Partner with regional leaders to create a public campaign encouraging reporting of implied or explicit threats of violence to enable preventative interventions by mental health authorities or law enforcement.
  • Gun Buy-Back Programs: Host more gun buy-backs in partnership with other local levels of government, non-profit and private partners. 
  • Leveraging Federal Information for Early Intervention: Convene a meeting between the San José Police Department, the District Attorney, and local Federal Bureau of Investigations, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, DEA, DHS, and U.S. Customs and Border Control to create better sharing information protocols for high-risk individuals. 

Gun violence constitutes an American public health crisis annually claims the lives of 40,000 victims, inflicts 71,000 non-fatal injuries, and unquantifiable grief and emotional harm. While no proposal will end gun violence, common sense gun laws will help to reduce the harm of guns in our community.   

These proposals are not the only solutions to reducing gun harm, and they won’t provide a panacea to magically end the scourge of gun violence. We can save lives though, through several interventions to reduce gun harm, working with elected leaders, law enforcement, the criminal justice system and community members must continue to work together to scale the impact of successful efforts to reduce this public health crisis. 

Cities have become laboratories of civic innovation, and San José is forging the path forward from which other cities and states can learn, adopt, and adapt –and we can all help save lives together.

We are grateful for the input, counsel, support, and advice from many community partners, including the Heising-Simons Foundation, Santa Clara County Office of the District Attorney, The Gifford Law Center, the Office of the City Attorney, the San José Police Department, the Santa Clara County Public Health Department, Ron Conway, many community-based organizations, and attorneys at the offices of Keker Van Nest and Cotchett, Pitre. 

Watch the press conference on Mayor Liccardo’s Facebook Page.

The proposal will be submitted on Thursday and be heard by the Rules Committee on June 16, 2021.