SAN JOSE, Calif. — San Jose firearm owners will soon be bound by new gun control laws that no U.S. citizen has faced before.

That is, if the divisive regulations hold up in court.

Under the city’s new ordinance, residents who own a gun must carry liability insurance and pay an annual fee aimed at reducing gun violence.

Within minutes of San Jose City Council’s passage of the groundbreaking ordinance, however, gun rights activists fired off their first legal challenge in federal court.

Proponents such as Mayor Sam Liccardo — who first introduced the controversial proposal in 2019 — acknowledged that the two-pronged ordinance will not affect residents who unlawfully own guns and commit crimes. However, they argue that it will encourage safer gun ownership, reduce the public cost of gun violence and provide resources and services for residents who are most affected by the use of guns — those who own a firearm or live in a home or are in a relationship with someone who does.

“We have spent nearly two years in deep discussion with legal experts throughout the country and here locally about how we could fashion 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 said at a news briefing Wednesday. “Of course we know this is going to be a battle, but that’s the nature of gun regulation in this country.”

In a federal lawsuit filed late Tuesday night, the National Association for Gun Rights and San Jose resident and gun owner Mark Sikes argued that the ordinance is unconstitutional and violates both state and city laws.


“We filed this immediately because we wanted to make it very clear that there are ramifications to passing America’s most insane gun control,” Dudley Brown, president of the association said at a news conference Wednesday, adding that he was sure they would prevail in court. “Frankly, we didn’t have enough paper to print all of the problems with this ordinance.”

The council’s move came more than two years after Liccardo first unveiled his proposal for the ordinance and after hearing from nearly 100 speakers on both sides of the debate during Tuesday night’s meeting. While supporters saw the ordinance as an “innovative, nonburdensome way to reduce gun violence,” opponents called it “financial and bureaucratic harassment” and a policy that “taxes law-abiding citizens” while “distracting the city from going after criminals.”

Liccardo initially pushed for these gun control measures in the wake of the mass shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival in 2019 where four people, including two San Jose children, were gunned down by a man who cut through a security gate. He then reignited the effort last summer following the San Francisco Bay Area’s deadliest mass shooting at a Valley Transportation Authority rail yard.

“When we think about the horrible shooting at the VTA and so forth, I don’t pretend to know if we could have stopped it or not,” Liccardo said. “But if, in fact, we could have delivered some mental health services, there may have been a chance.

Councilwoman Dev Davis dissented on both items in the ordinance, saying she believed the measures would be ineffective and might even be unconstitutional. Councilmembers Matt Mahan and Pam Foley voted against the fees, voicing concerns about some of measure’s ambiguity.

The new ordinance, which is set to take effect in August, requires that all San Jose residents who own a gun obtain a homeowner’s, renter’s or gun-liability insurance policy that specifically covers losses or damages resulting from negligent or accidental use of their firearm.


Additionally, gun owners will be asked to pay an annual fee of $25 to $35 to a nonprofit organization that will be established to manage the funds and distribute them to groups who will offer various services to residents who own a firearm or live with someone who does. Those services will include suicide-prevention programs, gender-based violence services, mental health and addiction services, and firearm-safety training, according to the city’s ordinance.

“There’s a lot more to gun violence than mass shootings and homicides, and that’s one of the things that gets lost,” said Councilmember David Cohen. “A large number of incidents are things that happen in the home, and what we’re focused on here is to try and reinforce responsible gun ownership.”

Under the city’s vision, the nonprofit will send out letters to registered gun owners who live in San Jose asking them to pay the annual fee. Once a payment is made, the nonprofit will send the gun owner a form with their proof of payment and a space on the form to fill out their insurance information. Gun owners will be required to carry or store a copy of the paperwork with their firearm, according to the mayor.

Residents who are exempted from the ordinance include sworn, active reserve or retired police officers, people who have a license to carry a concealed weapon, and low-income residents facing financial hardships.

Failure to abide by the law could result in a civil fine or temporary forfeiture of a firearm.

Most opponents argued that the ordinance punishes and taxes law-abiding gun owners while allowing criminals with unregistered guns to fly under the radar.


“This movement attacking our Second Amendment (rights) arises when a mass shooting occurs, but San Jose had been unable to protect its citizens from these maddening criminals and is instead is going after middle-class, law-abiding gun owners,” said resident Cindy Fulk. “Holding 55,000 gun owners responsible for the city’s failure to protect us is shameful.”

Proponents, however, argued that the ordinance gave San Jose the opportunity to take a lead and enact laws that other cities could follow to prevent harm caused by firearms in their communities.

Karen Pandula, a mother of a 20-year-old who was shot and killed in San Jose, said she believed this ordinance would make a “positive difference” and “prevent other families from suffering from gun violence.” Pandula’s daughter, Kristina, and her boyfriend, Eric Kenzo Otokawa, 21, were killed by a gunman at Otokawa’s downtown San Jose apartment in 2011.