The most important characteristic of the insurance needed for owning or carrying firearms is the basic structure of who is protected and paid by the insurance. Voluntary insurance is always designed to protect the insurance buyer or owner first and pays third party victims only when necessary to protect the policy holder. Required or mandatory insurance is intended to protect the public and persons other than the policy holder, and should promptly pay insured persons.
Persons wanting a level of responsibility for public carrying of firearms should take the proposed federal Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act (S-446) seriously. It is the NRA’s biggest want out of this Congress, was introduced by John Cornyn–a very powerful Senator and has support by at least 37 Senate co-sponsors. There is similar support in the House. It could become law very quickly. Its provisions would have the practical effect of making uncontrolled carry of weapons nationwide policy. They would also be an impediment to stopping illegal street sales and possession by prohibited persons. Adoption of an insurance requirement to protect victims is one of the most effective way to reduce the dangers that this would bring.
Mandatory gun insurance to gain adoption and to withstand the inevitable court challenges should be designed to provide real protection for victims and promote safe practices. It should be structured differently than either insurance as a backdoor gun prohibition or “shooter protection insurance” as currently sold by the NRA and others. The overall purpose of this blog is to examine how this is best done.
The sections below show the terms that should be included in an effective insurance mandate for this purpose. They can serve as an outline in drafting legislation when applied in light of other firearms laws in the relevant state.
Proposed bills have been introduced in the House (HR-38) and the Senate (S-446) which would allow holders of permits to carry firearms in all states. They have gathered a substantial number of sponsors. The current language of the bills is very broad and would not only prevent state restrictions on out of state permit holders but allow residents of states without a permit requirement to carry firearms nationwide. There are provisions to allow persons arrested under state laws to recover damages and legal expenses.
If this law passes states will have great difficulty enforcing any restrictions on gun carrying because of the difficulty in establishing that a person is not a resident of another state and because of the difficulty of checking the validity of out-of-state permits. There will be great pressure on states to relax requirements for their own citizens to match those of other states with no restrictions.
In this situation, an insurance mandate could be very important in providing at least some responsibility requirement.
In a new article “Living on the Edge (of Austrailian Cities: Is Gun Amnesty Effective?” by Isabella Kwai, Adam Baidawi and Tacey Rychter, the New York Times questioned the usefulness of a new three month program to recover illegal guns in that country.
A 2002 buyback program in Australia is widely acknowledged to have removed most of the semi-automatic guns from private stocks, officially counting 659,940 newly prohibited weapons. The Times article recognizes this program, pointing out that “the current rate of homicides involving guns in the United States is 23 times higher than it is in Australia” and that “Australia has not had a mass shooting since Port Arthur.” Port Arthur was a very serious mass shooting that initiated the movement to adopt Australia prohibitions and the buyback program. The buyback was a large program for a country of Australia’s size; and this amnesty will, no doubt, yield a much smaller reduction in the stock of illegal firearms. But amnesty and other uncompensated programs are inexpensive and can be repeated over time. The article linked above counts 219,721 additional firearms in uncompensated programs since the buyback. This is a substantial reduction.
If gun owners are mandated to have insurance, new guns can be monitored. But what about the 300,000,000 guns currently held by individuals, including illegal guns? Clearly, no system of insurance, gun regulation, or police activity can deal completely with problems arising from such massive numbers. The system of chaining insurance responsibility “Top Down” works to retain guns in the system one there, and stolen or otherwise illegally acquired guns will retain the insurer of the last legal owner. But the outstanding guns in the hands of criminals and a good proportion of those owned by otherwise law abiding owners will not be enrolled in insurance without good reason.
Although it might be assumed that political considerations will mean guns currently owned will be grandfathered in, that does not have to be the case. Legislators could establish a policy whereby all guns must be insured. When state or national laws are adopted to require insurance for guns sold by manufacturers or passing through the hands of legal gun dealers, the laws can require that persons owning guns acquire insurance.
In spite of declarations in the media from some gun proponents that they will not comply with various proposed measures regulating firearms, most gun owners are legal and responsible citizens and will comply with a requirement after a reasonable period of time. They will be able to purchase insurance and have their gun’s serial number added to the database without revealing their names to anyone other than their insurer. Much of the insurance now sold to gun owners is now provided to them in association with the NRA, and there is no reason that this cannot continue for those who have concerns about insurers protecting their privacy. Of course, any insurer, even the NRA, would have to comply with financial regulation as an insurer and provide the mandated insurance compensations for victims.
The database suggested as a part of the “Top Down” system would provide a quick way for a law enforcement officer to check if a particular gun is insured. The database is designed to provide a quick way to find the insurer responsible for a particular gun, but contains no information about the gun’s location or owner. An officer finding the gun as part of an action for some investigation or arrest can check if the gun is properly covered. Guns are routinely and legally declared when they are shipped in luggage on airlines and may have to be declared when brought into controlled places depending on local laws. Insurance can be checked in these situations as well.
Here are the detailed written comments submitted for the record by Tom Harvey, this blogger, after the hearing on the DC gun insurance bill. The bill is supported by this blog as a start in getting gun insurance enacted.
Comments as PDF
In a opinion article on Property Casualty 360 titled “Major Misfire” Paul Tetrault, state and policy affairs counsel for NAMIC, denounced the move in seven states and Congress to require insurance on guns. He repeated the statements that insurance cannot cover intentional acts. This blog has several times published numerous examples of current insurance that does cover intentional and even criminal acts to the benefit of parties other than the person who does the acts. This was pointed out to NAMIC but their spokesperson emailed that the organization stands behind the article.
A bill HB976 has been introduced in the North Carolina Legislature. It has several gun control provisions including $100,000 in mandatory gun liability insurance. This insurance goes farther than in most other states by applying to willful acts and to unreported stolen guns. The bill introduced by Rep’s Luebke, Insko, Harrison and Adams has 7 sponsors so far. It was introduced on 4/17/13, showing that momentum to deal with gun violence is continuing and that insurance is seen as a part of the solution. There have now been bills introduced in 9 states and the US House.
Representative Carolyn Maloney along with 8 cosponsors has introduced a bill, H.R. 1369 – Firearm Risk Protection Act of 2013, to require that gun buyers and sellers have “qualified” liability insurance when they make a transaction or continue to own the gun. They would be fined up to $10,000 if they do not have and maintain the insurance. The text of the bill does not define “qualified” and gives no further details. I spoke on the phone with Rep. Maloney’s press contact and was told that the bill will be filled out with more detail in the future. In this diary, I will lay out the principles and elements that should be considered when the bill language is developed.
Gun insurance should serve to protect victims and promote safe storage and use of firearms, without being an excessive burden on gun owners (for a description of possible insurance see here). Unfortunately, conventional liability insurance as sold, for example by the NRA, is designed only to protect the gun owner not third party victims. Gun insurance, like any insurance that is mandated by government or required as a condition of doing business, should be designed to protect those injured by an incident. Moreover, it needs to protect the public by encouraging safe practices. Currently, gun insurance only protects the gun owner from theft and lawsuits. Continue reading
For details on the recommendations by this blogger on how to implement this bill and have this insurance see my the April 2 post on Daily Kos
A bill titled the Firearm Risk Protection Act has been introduced by Rep. Carolyn Maloney in the national Congress. As of March 29, 2013 there is not text available on Congress.Gov but the bill has been referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary. Rep. Maloney’s press release states that the bill will impose a $10,000 fine if an owner does not have the required coverage. It exempts service members and law officers.
Other details have yet to be developed. Rep. Maloney’s press aide stated that in a phone call and email that “like all legislation, it was meant to start a conversation about national priorities” and welcomed input to the process. This blogger will certainly be following the bill and recommending that it be done in a way that provides the maximum protection to victims. It’s likely that the bill authors have in mind a relatively simple model of Liability insurance which could be improved by adding provisions to:
Follow guns as they are lost or stolen
Eliminate provisions to limit coverage for intentional acts
Eliminate requirements for negligence by gun owners
Require steps it aid identification of the responsible weapon
The bill has 8 cosponsors so far:
Keith Ellison MN-5
Eleanor Holmes Norton DC
Michael E. Capuano MA-7 20
James P. Moran VA-8
Bobby Rush IL-1
Niki Tsongas MA-3
Stephen F. Lynch MA-8 202-225-8273
Earl Blumenaur OR-3 202-225-4811