San Jose’s requirement that lawful gun owners must have liability insurance covering accidental discharges of their firearms is in effect and theoretically enforceable, though a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the measure is still ongoing in a California court. So far, however, the city has yet to issue a single citation, and as the San Jose Spotlight reports, many police officers are “unclear” on how and when to enforce the city’s ordinance.
Details surrounding the department’s initial training and subsequent refresher courses have not been publicly shared as police work to implement the Gun Harm Reduction Ordinance, which went into effect at the start of this year.
“Like any new program it can take repeated training and reinforcement to fully ramp up enforcement,” Sgt. Jorge Garibay told San José Spotlight.
The first-of-its kind law was championed by local leaders, including former Mayor Sam Liccardo, and requires San Jose gun owners to have liability insurance for accidental firings of their weapons. It also calls for gun owners to pay an annual fee of $25 to an as-of-yet unidentified nonprofit to support resources for people affected by gun harm, especially those who live in a home with a gun.
As police prepare for their second round of training on implementing the law, some residents are concerned it will only add more responsibility to a burdened police department without reducing real gun harm.
“Where are the priorities? The house is on fire and the city politicians and the police department are worried about the roof,” Margaret Petros, executive director of Mothers Against Murder, told San José Spotlight.
Her organization advocates for families of murder victims and she said getting police assistance on investigations or gathering records already takes hours or days, and police often cite short staffing as a main cause for delays.
Petros doesn’t agree with how the city is prioritizing where law enforcement needs to direct its efforts.
“I am feeling aggravated. I think more attention will be paid to this law by police, because their bosses at city hall want this to happen,” Petros said.
The fact that officers have already had to undergo two separate rounds of training on how to enforce a civil ordinance is pretty solid evidence that the insurance mandate is a waste of time and resources, without even delving into the constitutional issues around mandating an insurance policy before the exercise of a fundamental civil right.
In her ruling upholding the insurance mandate, U.S. District Judge Beth Labson Freeman, appointed to the bench by Barack Obama in 2014, ruled that 19th century surety laws requiring individuals deemed to be dangerous to post a bond before they could carry a firearm were sufficiently similar to San Jose’s mandate that all lawful gun owners obtain an insurance policy, and that the city’s requirement therefore passes the text, history, and tradition test laid out in the Bruen decision.
That’s stretching the Court’s opinion that modern day regulations need not be historical twins to older statutes to the point of absurdity, and her decision will likely be appealed by Gun Owners of California and the National Association for Gun Rights, but for now the big question is how exactly the ordinance will be enforced… and it sounds like even San Jose police don’t have an answer.
Garibay said “public safety will always take precedent” when addressing the gun insurance law. He also said SJPD shares responsibility for educating residents about the new ordinance, and wouldn’t expect officers to immediately start citing people who don’t have gun insurance.
“As with other types of laws, the department strives to gain compliance through an educational approach that eventually builds to enforcement when compliance is not gained,” Garibay told San José Spotlight. “I would expect the investigator to seek a resolution that allows the resident to fall into compliance rather than being fined.”
Moms Against Murder’s Petros is right to be concerned that the city’s desire to prove the effectiveness of the new ordinance could lead to police taking their eye off of the repeat, violent offenders who are driving violence in the city in favor of scrutinizing and penalizing lawful gun owners, but I’d honestly be more worried about the attitudes and ideology that led to this ordinance being approved in the first place if I were a San Jose resident. My prediction is that this ordinance will be rarely enforced, but the anti-2A minds that approved it are clearly more interested in cracking down on legal gun owners than fighting violent crime. It doesn’t have to be this way, but as long as their priorities are so sadly misplaced and directed at criminalizing a civil right than protecting the public safety, real crime in San Jose is going to be worse than it should be.