A New Kind of Gun Control

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S1: Thanks for your patience. I’m so sorry for keeping you waiting.

S2: The mayor of San Jose, California, is a pretty busy guy.

S1: OK, I’ll just close my door to make sure nobody runs in.

S2: His name is Sam Liccardo

S1: like Ricky Ricardo with an El. So they don’t sing unless requested.

S2: And Mary Liccardo is term limited. This is his last year in office.

S1: It is. Yeah, they’re kicking me out.

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S2: Is there pressure to get things done?

S1: Absolutely. I’m I’m racing to the finish line right now and you know, I know it’s a relief for my wife, but I for me, it’s, you know, it’s I’ve got 11 months to get everything done that that we ever wanted to try.

S2: One of the things Mary Liccardo has been wanting to try is passing a few ordinances around guns. He’s really leaned in here first. San Jose required all gun purchases to be recorded to ensure they were legal. And then just last month, the city instituted another rule. They say it’s the first of its kind in the country. This ordinance will require gun owners to both have liability insurance and pay a fee to the city, and that money will fund gun safety initiatives. It’s the beginning of a new kind of framework for gun safety, less about gun control, more about harm reduction. Did you expect that you were going to finish out your time as mayor talking about gun violence?

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S1: Not really. You know, although I’m a criminal prosecutor by background, this is not a particularly violent city. In fact, I think we had the lowest homicide rate of any big city in the country last year.

S2: So why the push?

S1: Well, we’ve been rocked by three mass shootings in the last three years. And you know, as I delve deeper into this subject about guns and their impact in our community, and we recognize that the headlines only tell a very small fraction of the harm and the devastation that families feel, whether it’s, you know, a suicide which comprises the majority of gun related deaths in our country or unintentional shootings. You know, I talked to a mom who lost her son that way just a couple of years ago, and that, you know, about little more than a third of emergency room admissions in this country result from unintentional shooting from guns.

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S2: It’s an interesting distinction you’re drawing there. I feel like so much of the conversation around guns is centered on crime, and what you’re saying is these are just kind of dangerous objects. And as a mayor, you end up encountering people who have. Been the victims of guns in all kinds of ways.

S1: Yes, guns owned by law abiding gun owners, many of whom are quite well intentioned. But the reality is there’s a lot of harm that’s resulting in its preventable harm. It’s harm that we can do something about.

S2: Today on the show, can San Jose pioneer a new approach to gun control? And if this city stands alone? Well, there their new approach make any difference. I’m Mary Harris. You’re listening to what next? Stick around. This new ordinance in San Jose, the best way to think about it, maybe as an experiment, and I say that not just because the rules are being challenged in court, I say that because in this city there are just 55000 gun owning households, a fraction of the total population. So I want to go through step by step how you got to the place you are now. When you ran for mayor of San Jose, like, did you talk about gun control a lot? Was it your thing? No.

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S1: And you know, if you did the polling, you’d probably find that it wouldn’t be a strong issue to be talking about because obviously it’s divisive in every community. And, you know, it never really came up because I think the assumption has long been in this country that cities don’t have any regulatory authority in this area. So it’s just not a city issue. It’s up to the states and and to Congress. And you know, for the most part, Congress just sort of abdicated its responsibility here. So, you know, several years in office became obvious that no one else is going to do something we should try.

S2: I read that you started working on gun violence prevention in earnest after the shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival in July 2019. Chop, Chop, Chop Chop.

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S3: Deadly shooting at a food festival in Northern California, three people killed at least

S1: 15 injured three of the victims in one area at a couple of encounters after. That horrible event, one with the mother of one of the two children who had been shot who just, you know, posed a question that stuck with me in my mind, which was, can’t you or can’t anybody do anything about this? I had a much more contentious encounter, a member at a memorial where I think it was a relative who was it may have been a cousin or friend who is Spanish speaking, who confronted me very publicly and said, Look, you guys talk a lot, but you don’t really do anything. And she’s right. What’s the city doing with that? And that question just rang over and over my head as I thought about what we can do as a city, you know, is there is there some space here for us to be able to stand up for our residents

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S2: after the Garlic Festival was the idea immediately? How do we find a way to extract money from gun owners and what would that look like?

S1: Well, I had been thinking for some time about this idea of gun insurance. And it’s not a new idea, it’s not my idea. Other legislatures have proposed these things, so I thought a little bit about that. And then I realized, Well, you know, that’s nice, but it’s not actually going to generate the resources we need to actually reduce gun harm. And so came up with this notion of a fee along with it. You know, we all agree the Second Amendment protects the right for all of us to own or possess a gun, but it doesn’t require taxpayers to subsidize that right. And when people become aware of the fact that, hey, whether you own a gun or not, you’re actually paying for this. You know, it starts to get folks thinking about, Well, how can we better distribute the costs of gun ownership and gun harm?

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S2: And then in May 2021, you were dealing with another mass shooting right at the San Jose rail yard.

S1: Yeah.

S2: The train yard, of course, remains sealed off as a crime scene.

S4: Many of us still just struggling to comprehend what happened to downtown San Jose, though we’ve been through this before in other Bay Area locations, not quite to this magnitude. In the middle

S2: of the nine people were killed, plus the gunman died by suicide.

S4: Cassidy first killed several co-workers in one building, then was seen on this surveillance video, calmly walking over to a second building where he murdered several more.

S2: How did that impact the conversation around this rule?

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S1: I think it provided further impetus for us to start to move forward. You know what was particularly poignant to me? Beyond the horrific event that happened was over the next 13 days, we looked at gun violence in our city. We saw eight separate deaths or serious injuries that resulted from gun inflicted wounds over those next 13 days. Not a single one of them really made the headlines, and what became still apparent was that we see the coastline of gun violence in our communities. Which are these? Horrible, devastating mass shootings. But the larger ocean is largely ignore, you know, take the horrible shooting at the transit facility within weeks, one of the witnesses to that shooting had turned a gun on himself.

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S3: Henry Gonzalez is now the 10th victim of this VTA tragedy now after a co-worker shot and killed nine others. Gonzales was the one who tried to comfort victims families.

S1: He was a VTA transit employee. Obviously for Lauren over the loss of his friends and undoubtedly suffered from some kind of PTSD from from seeing this shooting, and he shot himself. Now that was a preventable loss. Those who knew him said the pain he endured was too much to bear. He was one that went out and met many of the members and sat in their living rooms and tried to explain and help them get through this unknown of why this happened. Gonzales served on the committee, have gone to him with mental health treatment. Could we have gotten to him with suicide prevention initiatives? You know, I can’t know for sure if we could have changed. The trajectory of the devastation that that family felt, but I sure would have liked to have tried.

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S2: So the City Council voted last month on this ordinance, and it requires gun owners in San Jose to carry liability insurance and also to pay an annual $25 fee a harm reduction fee. Some of these things, the fee seems a little bit new to me. The insurance seems like something people may already have through homeowner’s insurance or something like that. So tell me how this ordinance will change things.

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S1: Yeah, I’ll fair. So let me start with the insurance. It is true that many homeowners are renters already have liability insurance for possession and guns. They may not be reporting the guns to the insurance companies as they ought to be. It all depends, obviously, on the policy, but this is insurance. It’s widely available. We want to make sure that first of all, folks have it because it’s important to compensate those who are injured and harmed by guns, but also because when you notify the insurance company, the insurance company can start to ask questions like Do you have a gun? Say you have a trigger lock, have you taken gun safety classes? And those kinds of actions can help to reduce the premium for the insured. Just as drivers got safe driver discounts and our premiums, we we got discounts back in the day when they came out with anti-lock brakes and airbags and other kinds of devices that have made driving safer. In fact, we’ve seen on a per mile basis that fatalities related automobiles have dropped about 80 percent over the last five decades. And part of that, a big part of that is insurance companies that are incentivizing people to be safer, to drive safer cars. So in the same way, we’re hoping that insurance companies will really get in the game, roll up their sleeves. Not just obviously Sanjay does this, but hopefully as more cities and states do it,

S2: the $25 fee, what will that go towards? Like who decides what it goes toward?

S1: Yeah, really important question. So we’re forming a Bible and see three foundation which is going to receive the dollars and the board, which will be comprised of a host of folks, including, for example, a Stanford professor, is an epidemiologist who’s been focused on gun harm and nonprofit experts who understand domestic violence prevention program suicide prevention. We were invited. At least one member of a gun group has actually joined this effort to create this nonprofit because we want organizations representing gun owners to be at the table, helping us to understand how do we best communicate how we best invest? And overwhelmingly not say entirely under the under the ordinance, these dollars are going to serve occupants have gun owning households or significant others who are in relationship with those who own guns. How well a letter will go out to all gun owning households and say, Hey, you got a gun? Here’s a lot of services that are available to you. Mental health, suicide prevention, domestic violence prevention, gun safety classes, whatever it might be that that is evidence based, it shows that we can reduce gun violence, right? Here’s a host of services. And by the way, here’s your obligation. You’ve got to pay a $25 fee. Hmm.

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S2: So it’s it’s almost like. Joining a club.

S1: Yeah, and like I don’t pretend to believe these are overwhelmingly folks who are willing to want to do this. I recognize that this is by government fiat and many would prefer not to pay the fee. But if we’re in the business of reducing harm and devastation from guns, you go to where the risk is.

S2: How much are you expecting that people will pay this fee? Is there an enforcement mechanism? What happens if they don’t?

S1: Yeah, important question. So it’s it’s a civil requirement. We have not created a criminal sanction here for for various reasons. So anyone who doesn’t comply will pay a fine in terms of enforcement, how that happens. What we see right now in the judicial landscape in the Supreme Court looks like they’re about to invalidate New York’s concealed carry restrictions. California also had concealed carry. Permit requirements and when those get pushed aside, as we expect they will. We’re going to have a lot more law enforcement. Encountering people with guns out on the street, in bars and nightclubs. You can imagine a host of different venues where a police officer would really like to have the ability to remove a gun from a potentially combustible situation. For example, there’s a bar brawl and you know the pattern down everybody is after the cops have arrived and someone’s got a gun. Have you paid your fee? You have insurance. No. OK, well, there’s an opportunity for us to remove the gun. And then when the gun owner comes back and demonstrates that they comply with the law and their lawful gun owner, they get their gun back. But in the meantime, you’ve taken a gun out of a Barbara, and that’s not a bad thing.

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S2: We’ll be back in a minute. You know, I went and watched the City Council meeting when the ordinance passed, and it needs to go through one more hoop is my understanding before it’s fully enacted.

S1: Yeah, second reading that’s pretty perfunctory.

S2: You had dozens of people calling in to comment from all over the spectrum. People who are there to support my

S1: daughter was shot and killed in San Jose. So I know firsthand the terrible loss

S2: and ongoing grief of losing a loved one unnecessarily to gun violence people who were speaking out against it and quite angry about it. And the main criticism I heard is that this law, it’s taxing a constitutional right, and I don’t get taxed for my freedom of speech. For instance, yeah, the citizen of the United States, I have a right to keep and bear arms as I see fit to protect myself and property. A law abiding citizen should not have to pay for this right, just like they do not have to pay or should not pay for their First Amendment rights to speak, assemble and worship freely instead of attacking. And I wonder what you’d say to someone who feels like their rights are being infringed on by a law like this one?

S1: Yeah, I don’t blame anyone for being emotional about this. These are really important issues that go to the core of what we believe about freedoms and rights and our own safety. But but I’d say this first, it’s a fee. It’s not a tax, and I won’t go into details about what the difference is. But the reality is that in this country, there have been taxes on guns and ammunition since at least 1999, and they’ve been upheld by the courts. So the fact that there’s a constitutional right attached somewhere to the exercise particular activity doesn’t mean it can’t be regulated, taxed or have a fee imposed on, you know, newspapers pay taxes, even though that’s an important First Amendment right for the litigants who filed lawsuit against us who are exercising their Seventh Amendment rights. They paid a filing fee at the courthouse steps. These are all constitutional rights. They’re all important. The question is not whether or not government can regulate them or not or those fees or taxes. The question is whether or not those pose barriers that are unduly onerous to the exercise of those rights. And given the fact that buying a gun in this country cost hundreds, if not thousands of dollars, depending on the model you take, a twenty five dollar fee is probably not terribly onerous, it seems to me. Nor is insurance, which can be obtained at little or no additional cost.

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S2: Some constituents said things like you’re making law abiding citizens pay for the bad actions of other people that this isn’t fair. Like, I’m doing everything right, and yet I’m going to be made to pay more for people who aren’t handling their gun safely. What would you say to that?

S1: I guess I would say it’s not fair to 250000 families in my city that don’t own guns, but still have to pay taxes to respond to the harm. Inflicted by those who do own guns. And as I mentioned, an awful lot of that harm. Is inflicted by people who may be well intentioned, may be law abiding, but they own guns. So we have to recognize that the burden the financial burden is shifted on taxpayers who certainly don’t benefit. Because they don’t own guns in any way and in many ways are often harmed.

S2: You say that you’ve been anticipating a barrage of lawsuits over this ordinance. How are you getting ready for this barrage of lawsuits, which is already beginning?

S1: Yeah, we’ve won suits been filed. There may be others. The complaint we saw that was filed in court few days ago is very much what we expected. We had been working for a year and a half with teams of lawyers from great organizations throughout the country like Brady United and Everytown and Giffords. That has been helping us understand the nature of the legal challenges we will be facing, and we certainly crafted the ordinance in various ways to try to ensure this would be lawful and upheld. Fortunate to have a private law firm, Petrie that stepped up immediately and said we’re willing to represent the city pro-bono. Wow. So taxpayers are on the hook and you know, the big issue will probably be attorneys fees that would be the cost and the risk that we have.

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S2: You see the lawsuits, what you expected, what do you mean by that?

S1: You know, I often said in in the world of gun regulation, no good deed goes on litigated. And you know, I’ve had a lot of mayors approaching me. Legislators from the statehouse approached me say, Hey, we want to do it, do we want to do it too? We just got to figure out, if you know, is it going to get through the courts? Well, we understand that’s the nature. It’s all going to get challenged because that seems to be the way that, you know, in a deeply divided country, the way to resolve difficult political issues.

S2: You don’t sound concerned. I don’t know if that’s the. You know, the term limits that you won’t be the person who has to wrap up the lawsuit or whether you just feel like we’re solid. And we got this.

S1: Well, look, I’m a recovering lawyer and so I feel fairly confident about our position. I think that the Constitution certainly allows cities and states to do this at the same time as a recognized we critically need innovation in this space. And this is sort of the Silicon Valley spirit. Nothing that has been tried is working. You can read the headlines and figure that out pretty quickly. You look at the data about gun deaths in this country, it’s atrocious compared to any other industrialized nation on the planet. It’s critical for us to try something different.

S2: Here’s something that’s on my mind when I think about this ordinance, which is that it makes a lot of sense for all the reasons that you’ve laid out. But also, it seems to me that in order to really work and have a lasting impact, it needs much more support and not just financial support, but one city putting in place these kinds of rules. It’s like a drop in the bucket.

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S1: Well, Mary, you’re right. We’re not doing this because we think San Jose is suddenly going to stop gun violence by itself. We’re doing this because we want the state of California to be doing this. We want every state to be doing this so that we view gun insurance in the same way that every driver of U.S. auto insurance. This is simply part of the responsibility of having this very deadly instrument, whether it’s an automobile or a gun in one’s possession. We need to do something. We need to do more, and it’s not just this idea, there can be other innovative ideas and other cities throughout the country and we encourage all of them. As mayors, we often steal each other’s good ideas, and that’s appropriate. I’m confident others will join us just as soon as they know that there’s a path. And so we’re going to place that path.

S2: Mary Liccardo, I’m really grateful for your time and your thoughtfulness on this issue.

S1: Thank you, Mary really enjoyed it.

S2: Sam Liccardo is the mayor of San Jose, California. And that’s our show. What next is produced by Elaina Schwartz, Danielle, Hewitt, Carmel Delshad and Mary Wilson were led by Alicia Montgomery and I’m Mary Harris. You can track me down on Twitter and say, Hi, I’m at Mary desk. But before we go, the what next family has big news. This week we’re having a baby, not a real baby, a show, baby. What next? TBD is adding a second episode to the week. That means twice as much Lizzie O’Leary in your feed once on Fridays and again on Sundays. We are so psyched to be bringing you more stories about tech and its role in our future. So stay tuned. All right. Lizzie’s got the baton for now. I’ll catch you back here on Monday.