Is San Jose right to force gun owners to cover costs of gun violence?
- On Tuesday, June 29, 2021, San Jose city council voted to force gun owners to compensate taxpayers for gun violence costs in a “national first.” The decision comes a month after the worst mass shooting in the Bay Area; Samuel Cassidy killed nine of his colleagues as well as himself.
- The Pacific Institute on Research and Evaluation (PIRE) reported that the cost of gun violence in San Jose between 2013 and 2019 was $442 million each year.
- The Second Amendment of the US Constitution ensures “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”
- America has 120.5 guns per 100 people, which amounts to about 393,347,000 guns—the highest per capita worldwide.
- A 2019 Quinnipiac Poll shows 32% of Republicans, 59% of independents, and 91% of Democrats are in favor of stricter gun laws in America.
- A 2013 Pew Foundation report found that nearly 80% of both male and female gun owners reported that owning a firearm made them feel safer.
To paraphrase a well-known theatre maxim, if a gun appears in the first act, it’s bound to go off in the second act. This is similarly true for gun owners, and San Jose’s novel approach to combating gun violence should be applauded. Those who purchase and own guns contribute to the number of weapons on the street. And with the increased number of weapons comes an increased potential for violence whether the firearms were purchased legally or not; it’s only logical that these individuals contribute financially to help pay for gun violence.
Attaching fines, fees, and prices to behaviors works. We’ve seen congestion charges, littering fines, and other measures effectively moderate people’s behavior. Effective gun policy is past due, and San Jose is right to try a strategy that has worked in other areas. No one needs to own a gun. Gun ownership is a luxury, and it is more than fair to charge gun owners for the privilege. Those not wishing to pay a small fee to help mitigate and heal the damage caused by these deadly weapons have the option to simply give them up and live in peace.
Mayor Liccardo, city attorneys, and anti-gun activists acknowledge that many of the provisions in the bill will end up in court. Bringing these novel strategies to further public spotlight will elevate their status in the public eye and encourage other cities to adopt similar strategies once they have cleared judicial hurdles. Gun violence has been a major issue in this country for too long. It will take bold actions like those proposed in San Jose to change the entrenched norms around gun ownership in America.
Gun ownership is considered a right in the United States, and as such, this move equates to charging a fee to exercise that right. Judges have overturned other measures--such as bans on certain 'military-style' rifles and high-capacity magazines--as unconstitutional for similar reasons. Sam Paredes, president of the group Gun Owners of California, also pointed out that existing laws have done little to prevent gun violence, saying that 'these tragedies continue to occur, which shows that all of these gun control laws, they all fail.' Paredes further noted that 'the courts have ruled the government can't impose financial preconditions on enumerated rights.'
San Jose mayor Sam Liccardo said that the tax would 'require gun owners to pay a fee to compensate taxpayers for the public cost of responding to gun violence,' which seems like charging restitution even to those who have committed no wrongdoing. This tax will penalize safe, law-abiding gun owners, forcing them to pay for acts they had no hand in. In an opinion piece for CNN, Mayor Liccardo wrote that while the Second Amendment 'protects the rights of citizens to own guns, it doesn't require the public to subsidize gun ownership.' This seems to imply that the mayor regards all gun owners as somehow complicit in every accident and act of violence involving guns, which in turn seems like a mischaracterization of the situation. It is not right to hold every gun owner responsible in such a way, nor does it seem to comply with the Constitution.