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San Jose passes law requiring gun owners to get liability insurance


San Jose, Calif., may soon be the first city in the U.S. where gun owners are required to have liability insurance. As NPR's Martin Kaste reports, this move by the City Council has generated a whole lot of debate, even though it's unclear what practical effect it's going to have.

MARTIN KASTE, BYLINE: After three mass shootings in three years and a jump in the murder rate in 2020, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo says he felt he had to do something, but what?

SAM LICCARDO: Virtually every option available to mayors and cities to reduce gun violence is somehow or another preempted or precluded by federal and state law.

KASTE: One possibility - collect an annual fee from gun owners. It'll be in the range of $30. That money will fund services such as suicide prevention and gun safety training. But it's the second part of Liccardo's anti-gun violence package that's getting the attention - a new requirement that gun owners carry insurance.

LICCARDO: With insurance, we know risk-adjusted premiums can encourage gun owners to buy gun safes, to install trigger locks, the kinds of things that can make their families safer and make us all safer.

KASTE: But Sam Paredes says the mayor is being insincere. Paredes runs the group Gun Owners of California.

SAM PAREDES: Any way you put the lipstick on this pig, it is still a pig. It's still wrong-headed. It is unconstitutional.

KASTE: Parades believes the point of this requirement is just to create new financial and bureaucratic burdens for legal gun owners. And his group and others are going to court to challenge the law before it can take effect in August. Also, as a practical matter, Paredes says you can't get insurance for the kind of gun violence that most people care about.

PAREDES: There isn't an insurance company anywhere in the world that will offer an insurance policy to protect somebody who misuses a firearm.

KASTE: City officials say they're not requiring anyone to get insurance for intentional harm with a gun, just for accidents or negligence. People often have that coverage already with their homeowner's or umbrella liability policies. So how much difference will this new requirement make? William Rosen is managing director of state policy and government affairs at Everytown for Gun Safety. He calls this insurance requirement creative.

WILLIAM ROSEN: It also, of course, means it's untested. So I think, in a way, it can be a good model for cities. We'll certainly be following closely.

KASTE: One thing is already apparent - the San Jose ordinance sets up a new area of political debate and legal battle over what the rules should be for owning a gun.

Martin Kaste, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF ABE ROUNDS' "RUN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Martin Kaste is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers law enforcement and privacy. He has been focused on police and use of force since before the 2014 protests in Ferguson, and that coverage led to the creation of NPR's Criminal Justice Collaborative.