Judge says she is unlikely to block California city's gun insurance law

Houston hosts NRA convention days after school massacre
An attendee tries out a gun on display at the National Rifle Association (NRA) annual convention in Houston, Texas, U.S. May 28, 2022. REUTERS/Callaghan O'Hare
  • First-of-its-kind measure would require gun owners to obtain liability insurance
  • Gun rights group says it violates Second Amendment right to bear arms

(Reuters) - A federal judge on Thursday appeared poised to allow a San Jose, California, city ordinance requiring gun owners to purchase insurance to take effect, though she expressed strong misgivings about another part of the law requiring gun owners to pay a fee to a newly created anti-gun violence non-profit.

U.S. District Judge Beth Labson Freeman in San Jose said at a video-conference hearing that she did not believe the ordinance implicated the Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution because it did not allow the city to enforce it by seizing guns, and so was not inclined to grant a request from the National Association for Gun Rights for a preliminary injunction blocking it.

"This ordinance does not appear to me to regulate who can own a gun or where they can carry a gun," she said.

San Jose passed the first-of-its-kind ordinance, which would require gun owners to obtain liability insurance covering losses and damages stemming from negligent or accidental use of their weapons, in January. The measure was to take effect in August, but the city earlier this month said it would postpone it until the litigation is resolved.

NAGR immediately sued, saying the ordinance violated the Second Amendment right to bear arms. In a recent filing, the group said the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling last month expanding gun rights bolstered its case. The high court, striking down a New York law on concealed carry licenses, held that restrictions on gun ownership must be in line with those traditionally adopted throughout U.S. history.

Freeman, however, said Thursday that requiring owners to buy insurance and pay fees did not directly restrict gun ownership.

Mike Columbo of Dhillon Law Group, arguing for NAGR, said the requirement nonetheless burdened the right to bear arms by imposing requirements that apply only to gun owners.

Freeman appeared more sympathetic to the group's claim that requiring gun owners to donate to a non-profit aimed at combating gun violence could violate the First Amendment by compelling them to support an "anti-gun" organization. She said the city might have avoided the problem by charging fees to run an anti-gun violence program itself.

However, the judge said that it was likely too soon to block that measure, since the non-profit had not yet been formed.

"I don't want the city to walk away thinking this is a win," she said. "I think there are real problems here. I need to find out what the non-profit is and what it's doing before I can rule."

The case is National Association for Gun Rights Inc et al v. City of San Jose et al, U.S. District Court, Northern District of California, No. 5:22-cv-00501.

For NAGR: Mike Columbo of Dhillon Law Group

For San Jose: Tamarah Prevost of Cotchett Pitre & McCarthy

Read more:

San Jose votes to be first U.S. city to mandate gun liability insurance

U.S. Supreme Court expands gun rights, strikes down New York law

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Brendan Pierson reports on product liability litigation and on all areas of health care law. He can be reached at brendan.pierson@thomsonreuters.com.