Report finds firearm shop probes by police flawed
A newly released city report found major gaps in police inspections of San Jose's gun shops, including failures to make required surprise visits and complete follow-up reviews of violators.
“We're seeing a lot of inconsistency” in police department's inspections, City Auditor Joe Rois said.
Key among a host of problems highlighted in the city auditor's review is evidence of outdated, incomplete or missing paperwork from both inspectors and sellers.
The city auditor's review, completed in December, comes as San Jose experiences an increase in gun-related violence over the last five years, most notably a 2021 massacre at a Valley Transportation Authority light rail yard where nine employees were shot by a disgruntled worker. A mass shooting Jan. 21 in Monterey Park that killed 11 drew strong reactions from Bay Area leaders who also called for bolstering firearm laws.
A central part of the city auditor's review was the measurement of how well the city's police force — specifically the department's Permits Unit — is ensuring that San Jose's nine gun shops are complying with local laws. Rois said his investigation specifically examined the police department's interactions with three of those shops, which go unnamed in the report.
Though police told auditors that they make two required unscheduled inspections of gun shops in addition to their single annual visit, the city review found
no records to show that these were made. In addition, there's only one police inspector visiting the shops, the report found, despite a city law that requires a second officer on the scene.
When a violation is found at a shop, auditors discovered there was “no consistent documentation” that inspectors used to ensure that the issue was resolved.
Auditors also found that the checklist Permit Unit inspectors use is missing key requirements — including whether gun sellers are complying with ID laws, questioning buyers about who they're purchasing a gun for, and conducting inventory checks.
In addition to the San Jose Police Department, state and federal authorities also inspect local gun
shops, according to Rois.
In a response to questions about the city auditor's review, a spokesperson for the city's police deferred to the department's reply to the report, which
included a list of inspection recommendations. In its reply, the police department said it agreed with the report's suggestions and would make “comprehensive” policy changes to its inspection efforts.
Aside from issues with inspections, the audit also investigated San Jose's gun violence restraining orders (GVROS) that allow authorities to remove firearms if the owners are deemed a threat to public safety.
The report suggested that the police department could conduct better public outreach about such orders. For example, there is no information available online for San Jose residents on how to file one, whereas other cities such as San Diego and Seattle have their own dedicated websites. Councilmembers Omar Torres and Peter Ortiz also are suggesting that the city expand GVRO instructions to other languages.
The auditor's investigation also recommended that the city tweak a handful of its own gun laws to align with the state's stricter requirements. However, Rois said the state's rules are already largely being followed by the city.
The report was presented to San Jose councilmembers on Jan. 24.
In San Jose, incidents involving guns have increased by 25% since 2017, with aggravated assault and robbery being the most common crimes. But compared to its neighbors, such as Oakland, Sacramento and San Francisco, the city still has a lower firearm death rate.
Last year, the city became the first in the nation to require gun owners to obtain liability insurance — and plans to penalize those who don't comply with up to $1,000 in fines.
Despite the increased efforts to reign in firearms, the suggestion that San Jose should be bolstering its inspections is ruffling feathers among some gun shop owners.
Mike Fournier, the owner of The Gun Exchange in south San Jose, says he supports the police but questions why more oversight is necessary.
“They're trying to make crooks out of us,” Fournier said. “Why don't they go to the parking lot and do an inspection?”
Fournier, who has owned the shop for 35 years and has more than 1,200 new and used firearms in his store, said he feels the police could make a bigger impact on gun-related crimes by focusing more on blatant rule breakers.
“They can come by and inspect … it's a waste of time,” he said. “They should try to go to the streets and catch the bad guys.”