Tax groups sue San Jose over gun insurance law

by Ryan Fernandez  

March 17, 2022 

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San Jose’s gun ordinance — set to take effect in August — is being challenged by tax groups who claim the fee is actually a tax that must be approved by two-thirds of local voters and that it is also unconstitutional.

Now, in a recent lawsuit filed in Santa Clara County Superior Court, the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, the Silicon Valley Public Accountability Foundation, the Silicon Valley Taxpayers Association and San Jose residents James Barry and George Arrington claim the city’s gun safety fee violates the First Amendment right to free speech. They say it does so by making gun owners pay the fee to a nonprofit whose goals and messaging might not necessarily match their own, according to the Mercury News.

“Our interest is not in the right to own guns,” said Tim Bittle, director of legal affairs for the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, per the Mercury News. “But we’re very concerned about the potential precedent that could be set by this unusual requirement that gun owners pay a fee to a private nonprofit organization, which then has control of how the revenue of the fee gets spent.”

The ordinance would affect 50,000 to 55,000 households in San Jose. The proposed fee could be around $25 in its initial year and would go to a nonprofit that would fund harm reduction efforts like suicide prevention services, firearms safety training or domestic violence services. Police officers and bearers of concealed-carry licenses are exempt from the ordinance, along [with] people who can’t afford the fee or insurance (but they would have to obtain a waiver).

Mayor Sam Liccardo told the Mercury News that legal challenges were not unexpected, and the city spent about two years crafting “an ordinance that would be constitutional, enforceable and have the impact of reducing the risk of gun violence and gun harm in our community. Liccardo proposed the law in the wake of the 2019 mass shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival and the 2020 shooting at the VTA railyard in San Jose. The San Jose City Council passed the ordinance in an 8–3 vote.

In a statement released Tuesday, the Silicon Valley Public Accountability Foundation further argues that there is a regressive element to the fee that impacts low-income residents. The foundation did note in its statement, however, that the organizations behind the lawsuit are not challenging the requirement to maintain liability insurance.

Lower-income gun owners are least able to afford the insurance and the annual fee that the ordinance requires, the foundation stated. Ironically, the Foundation argues, criminals who own unregistered guns will never be called upon to pay the fee or buy the insurance.

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