Each year more than 172,000 guns nationwide are stolen in burglaries, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics. In San Jose alone, the city tallied 265 gun thefts from 2014 to 2017. While California now requires gun owners to notify authorities if a firearm is lost or stolen, there’s no state law that addresses theft-prevention.
San Jose is debating how to address that policy gap. The City Council on Tuesday will consider whether to adopt a safe-storage ordinance, which would require gun owners to lock up their weapons while they’re away or risk getting fined.
“Stolen firearms are commonly used in subsequently committed crimes,” City Attorney Rick Doyle and City Manager David Sykes wrote in an analysis of the proposed ordinance. “As a result, there is a significant public interest in preventing them from falling into the hands of persons involved in criminal activity.”
Councilman Raul Peralez and then-Councilman Ash Kalra asked the city to study a safe-storage ordinance last year. Since that time, the state has enacted new gun control laws. As of this year, California prohibits large-capacity magazines and requires background checks for ammunition sales. Also as of this year, it’s mandatory for guns left in vehicles to be locked in the trunk or a container out of plain view.
But there’s no such rule for guns left at home. Doyle and Sykes said there’s “a compelling argument” for mandating some measure of theft prevention, whether that entails a secure container or a trigger lock.
Enforcement could get tricky, however. City staff noted that violations wouldn’t come to light unless police were called to a home on report of a burglary or unless officers found a stolen gun used in some other crime.
“Officers at the scene would have the discretion, based on the totality of the circumstances, to take enforcement action,” the Doyle-Sykes memo noted. “This would result in minimal added workload to officers and virtually no fiscal impact to the city, other than revenue from fines collected due to a violation.”
The secure-storage rule could very well curb the number of gun thefts, they noted, but the city should enforce it in a way that doesn’t deter people from reporting stolen firearms that weren’t properly secured. One way to do that, Doyle and Sykes suggested, is to have a 24-hour grace period under which cops wouldn’t cite a person for a violation if they report the theft right away.
The memo listed a few policy alternatives from other cities, but problems were found with each one. San Francisco, for example, has a safe-storage law that requires guns be locked in a container or disabled with a trigger lock if the owner isn’t carrying it. The risk there, the document stated, is that it could incentivize more people to walk around armed with guns inside their home.
Sunnyvale’s gun storage law requires the same restrictions unless the weapon is in the owner’s “immediate possession and control” or “within close enough proximity and control.” City staff called the phrasing of the rule a little too open-ended.
Doyle also advised against exempting active-duty law enforcement from the safe-storage rule. “Law enforcement personnel are victims of burglaries, just like any other member of the public,” he wrote. “This exemption could potentially result in unsecured firearms being in the hands of criminals.”
More from the San Jose City Council agenda for October 17, 2017:
- Mayor Sam Liccardo wants the city to study the potential impact of a ballot measure that would rezone property in the city’s eastern foothills to make way for a senior housing development. Liccardo’s dead-set against the Evergreen Hills project, which would use land reserved for commercial development. If the council approves the directive, city staff would study, among other things, the development’s economic impact and infrastructure needs.
- The city manager’s annual financial report is up for review. The 292-page document notes how the city has been trying to prepare for a $35 million general fund shortfall next year. While the city is mostly keeping in line with its projections for the 2016-17 budget, there were some added costs, including a new police helicopter ($1.6 million), beefed-up emergency management ($250,000) and planning for Google’s potential arrival in downtown ($415,000).
- Now that the city adopted its own sustainable power plan, it plans to form a Clean Energy Community Advisory Commission.
- In the wake of several public suicides in downtown in recent years, Councilman Peralez brought up the idea of adopting a suicide prevention policy. The proposal, which he initially pitched at a subcommittee meeting, garnered several letters of support. Victor Ojakian, who co-chairs the Santa Clara County Suicide Prevention Oversight Committee, noted in a letter that San Jose could model its policy after Palo Alto’s. “In December 2004, I had a son take his life,” Ojakian wrote. He added: “I came to understand that suicide is a complex behavior and that no one is exempt. If suicide goes unaddressed, individuals will lose their lives.”
WHAT: City Council meets
WHEN: 1:30pm Tuesday
WHERE: City Hall, 200 E. Santa Clara St., San Jose
INFO: City Clerk, 408.535.1260