A national gun rights group is suing a California city that has approved legislation requiring gun owners to carry liability insurance.
The measure, which the San Jose City Council approved Tuesday, is an “unprecedented step,” according to the federal lawsuit that the National Association for Gun Rights and local gun owner Mark Sikes filed that evening.
The complaint seeks nominal damages and an injunction to overturn an “unconstitutional and unlawful ordinance” that violates the Second Amendment right to bear arms by placing an unfair financial burden on gun owners.
“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 complaint states. “In fact, the penalties for nonpayment of the insurance and fees include seizure of the citizen’s gun.”
The lawsuit said San Jose will require “virtually all gun owners within its city limits to pay unspecified sums of money to private insurance companies and an unspecified fee to an unidentified government-chosen nonprofit simply to exercise their constitutional right to own a gun, as well as an unspecified fee to the city” to cover administrative costs.
At a Wednesday press conference, the Virginia-based National Association for Gun Rights called the measure a “gun ownership tax” and said it filed the lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California as quickly as possible.
“We did it immediately because we wanted to make it very clear that there were ramifications for passing America’s most insane gun control law,” said Dudley Brown, the group’s president. “Where else did it happen but California?”
The group said it first threatened legal action in a cease-and-desist letter that its attorneys sent to San Jose officials last summer after the council voted unanimously to draft the measure, which was then tabled.
“Now, the most peculiar impact of this ordinance is to tax guns kept in the home for self-defense,” said the group’s attorney, Harmeet Dhillon. She said the “biggest problem that our state is facing is rampant crime” that residents help deter by keeping guns in their homes.
Mr. Sikes, the longtime San Jose resident named in the case, said he has the support of his wife.
“I believe that the country was founded on gun ownership and that guns can be a tool for good,” Mr. Sikes said.
San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo, who promoted the ordinance as part of a broader gun control plan he announced after a mass shooting at a local railyard in May, responded Wednesday to the lawsuit by denying that gun taxes are inherently unconstitutional.
“No good deed goes unlitigated,” Mr. Liccardo told The Washington Times. “Fees and taxes on guns and ammunition have existed since 1919 and have repeatedly been upheld.”
The Associated Press reported Tuesday that city officials anticipated legal challenges heading into the vote and have received offers from local lawyers to defend them pro bono.
According to the AP, city officials hope the measure will curb gun violence, which council member Sergio Jimenez called “a scourge on our society.”
Mr. Liccardo said 55,000 households among the Silicon Valley city’s roughly 1 million residents own registered firearms. He said the new law will encourage them to have gun safes and trigger locks and take gun safety classes.
“This won’t stop mass shootings and keep bad people from committing violent crime,” but it could reduce the number of gun deaths arising from suicide, accidental shootings and domestic violence, Mr. Liccardo said Tuesday night.
Gun violence costs San Jose taxpayers $40 million a year in emergency response services, the mayor said.
The City Council also voted Tuesday to make gun owners pay a $25 fee to an unidentified nonprofit organization, which will spend the money on firearm safety education, suicide prevention, domestic violence and mental health programs.
Second Amendment advocates said the ordinance punishes the wrong people.
“San Jose’s decision to levy an insurance requirement on law-abiding gun owners is like taxing vegans for red meat consumption,” said Max Oliva, director of public affairs for the National Shooting Sports Federation.
Mr. Oliva called the measure a “poll tax,” referring to a common way that governments drew revenue from people regardless of their income from ancient times until the 19th century.
“Criminal misuse of firearms is reprehensible, and those unlawfully using firearms must be held accountable,” Mr. Oliva said. “The problem of criminal misuse of firearms must be addressed not by punishing those who abide by the law but punishing those who break the law.”
The National Rifle Association, the nation’s oldest gun rights advocacy group, agreed.
“Mayor Liccardo can’t honestly believe that those who are breaking the law will pay any fees or even attempt to sign up for the required insurance,” said Amy Hunter, NRA director of media relations. “Instead, law-abiding citizens will be left holding the bag. While the ruling class in one of America’s richest cities might shrug off these unreasonable costs, in reality, they will act as a barrier for those in underserved communities.”
• This article is based in part on wire service reports.