Gun Rights Group Sues San Jose Over Unprecedented Liability Insurance Mandate

A gun rights group is suing a California city after it passed an ordinance mandating gun owners to purchase liability insurance and pay an annual fee. 

The National Association for Gun Rights and an individual plaintiff announced the lawsuit on Wednesday morning, a day after the city council in San Jose voted on the first-of-its-kind ordinance. The plaintiffs allege that the new provision is unconstitutional because it applies an undue financial burden for those wishing to express their Second Amendment rights. The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

“San Jose’s imposition of a tax, fee, or other arbitrary cost on gun ownership is intended to suppress gun ownership without furthering any government interest,” the lawsuit reads. “In fact, the penalties for nonpayment of the insurance and fees include seizure of the citizen’s gun. The Ordinance is, therefore, patently unconstitutional.” 

The new ordinance requires all legal gun owners to pay liability insurance and a $25 yearly fee, plus administrative costs beginning later this year. San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo contends that requiring liability insurance would encourage the thousands of gun owners within the city limits to take gun safety classes, install trigger locks, and have gun safes. The $25 fee will go to an unspecified nonprofit group for gun safety and suicide prevention services.

“Tonight, San Jose became the first city in the United States to enact an ordinance to require gun owners to purchase liability insurance and to invest funds generated from fees paid by gun owners into evidence-based initiatives to reduce gun violence and gun harm,” the mayor said Tuesday evening. 

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit, who are being represented by the Dhillon Law Group, cited a Supreme Court ruling from 1943 that concluded that the government “may not impose a charge for the enjoyment of a right granted by the federal constitution” and a 2008 ruling that guarantees the right to possess and carry guns for self-defense. 

“Because California and the City of San Jose have already made it exceedingly difficult to lawfully carry a weapon outside the home, and the Ordinance only affects owners of lawfully owned guns, the Ordinance’s true impact is solely on guns kept in the home by law-abiding citizens,” the lawsuit reads. “It does nothing to deter the scourge of unlawful ownership and use of guns by criminals or to recoup from them compensation for the injuries and damage they cause.” 

The lawsuit also contends that the new ordinance violates California’s state constitution because it “imposes taxes” that haven’t been approved directly by voters.

“To preserve the safety and core rights under the Constitution of the law-abiding citizens of the City of San Jose, as well as their rights under the California Constitution and the City Charter, this Court must prevent Defendants from enforcing the unconstitutional and unlawful Ordinance,” the plaintiffs said. 

The proposal was first introduced last year after a gunman went on a rampage and killed nine people at Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority rail yard located in San Jose. The shooting was the deadliest in the area’s history. 

The insurance would cover losses or damages resulting from accidental use of firearms. The owner would also be liable if a stolen or lost gun was used to injure or kill someone, but not if the theft or loss was reported to authorities.