Editor’s Note: Sam Liccardo is the mayor of San Jose, America’s 10th largest city. He has written op-eds published by the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, The Hill and the Mercury News. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion at CNN.
In my city, a mass shooting took the lives of nine people at a transit rail yard in May. In the three weeks since, while friends and family have grieved over their devastating loss, San Jose suffered about 15 more episodes of gun violence, according to San Jose Police Department records received by my office.
No longer do these facts startle; our nation has become desensitized to the ubiquity of gun violence. After each horror, prayers and platitudes precede what can only be described as a quiet conspiracy of congressional inaction and a distracting news cycle that anesthetizes our collective outrage. We move on.
Grieving communities don’t have the luxury of forgetting. We live among devastated family members, we hear the echoes of painful eulogies, and we work with traumatized friends.
I joined several colleagues to propose a comprehensive set of initiatives to reduce gun-related harm in San Jose. These proposals include two measures that no other city nor state in the United States has ever tried: mandatory gun insurance to support victims, and mandatory gun fees to compensate taxpayers. As with many other Silicon Valley innovations, we intend to implement and test these ideas, learn from our mistakes, improve, iterate and provide a platform for others to scale them to benefit their own communities.
First, we will require every gun owner in my city to have liability insurance, regardless of where they purchased their gun. Insurance compensates the victims of unintentional gun harm – which annually injures 27,000 Americans and claims the lives of 500 more – paying medical bills, rehabilitative needs, and tragically, funeral expenses.
Insurance also incentivizes safe gun ownership, where risk-adjusted premiums might encourage owners to take gun-safety courses, use gun safes or install child-safety locks. In the context of auto safety, insurers rewarding good driving or the use of airbags have reduced per-mile auto fatalities by 80% in five decades, saving 3.5 million lives. We need a similar approach to address unintentional firearm risk, because 4.6 million children live in a household where a gun is kept unlocked and loaded, and three-quarters of gun injuries occur at home.
Second, we will require gun owners to pay a modest annual fee to compensate taxpayers for the cost of gun-related violence. Every day, our residents bear the financial burden for police officers who bravely respond to shootings, for ambulances that transport the wounded, and for trauma surgeons to save them. These direct costs of gun violence to California taxpayers – to say nothing of the costs to victims or their families – exceeded $1.4 billion in 2018, a sum equivalent to the entire General Fund budget of my city, America’s 10th largest.
Many like to point to the Second Amendment to skew the discussion on much needed gun reform. And while it protects the rights of citizens to own guns, it doesn’t require the public to subsidize gun ownership.
Skeptics will say that criminals won’t comply. They’re right; yet that’s an important feature of these proposals, not a defect. These ordinances create a legal mandate that provides police with a lawful means for seizing guns from non-law-abiding, dangerous people.
The response to every officer’s call for domestic violence in my city, for example, includes the question, “do you have any guns in the home?” If that gun owner lacks proof of payment or insurance, the police can seize the gun – and dramatically reduce the lethality of the risk to the victim. Of course, the benefits can be more widespread: the majority of mass shootings in the US victimize intimate partners or otherwise involve domestic violence.
These proposals won’t magically stop gun violence. We can develop a vaccine to stop a single virus, but no panacea exists for an epidemic of gun violence that involves the presence of at least 300 million potential weapons in the US. Public health approaches that have saved millions of lives otherwise lost for reasons related to smoking, driving or alcohol emphasize a multifaceted approach.
So too, to reduce gun harm, we’ll need many interventions – both innovative and familiar ones.
In San Jose, we’ve proposed to bolster California’s “red flag” law – which authorizes courts to temporarily seize firearms from anyone believed to be a danger to themselves or others – and to better inform our community to know how to use it. We will ban untraceable “ghost guns.” We will crack down on straw purchasing – such as by videotaping every gun store transaction – to ensure that criminals can’t buy guns through stand-ins.
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Above all, we will do more to look out for one another, such as by coordinating early mental health interventions where family members or coworkers observe troubling signs of distress. We can crowd-source vigilance – and compassion – from our community.
We have all suffered enough, through 40,000 annual firearm-related deaths, 71,000 injuries, and millions of broken hearts. The reason is no secret: we live in a nation with more guns than adults. Yet we can make both safer. It’s time to move beyond prayers and platitudes to action.