We have responsible ways to handle things which are dangerous but which are not made illegal because of their actual or assumed benefits to society. We look carefully at ways to contain the dangers and enjoy the benefits in almost every case. The exception is firearms, but we are just beginning to pull our heads out of the sand and examine this important subject.
First Principle — Mandatory No-Fault Insurance to Cover All Victims
One of the most powerful tools to facilitate a dangerous activity is insurance. Unfortunately, requiring insurance to cover gun violence has been looked at only as a way to penalize gun ownership or at least to transfer costs to gun owners. The result is calls for high limit liability insurance, usually with terms that make actual implementation unlikely. This blog argues that the tort/liability model is one of the least effective ways to increase safety and provide for victims. A No-Fault system similar to worker’s compensation or some motor vehicle insurance is much better. It needs to follow a gun that changes hands in a way to insure that all guns are covered.
Second Principle — Top Down Insurance Does Not Require Gun Registration or Owner Tracking
This blog also is advocating that insurance be required of gun manufacturers or anyone bringing a gun into the system in such a way that the insurer only relinquishes responsibility when another insurer (contracted by a new owner) takes it up. Insurance should remain in effect through any transfer legal or not. This would allow confidence that insurance was always in effect without tracking the gun owners. With a proper No-Fault system the victim would not have to even be told the name of the owner to collect compensation. All transactions by claimants or the government would be with the insurance companies.
Yahoo’s OMG reports that an actress who left the jewelry in her car had it stolen while she was at a friend’s Hollywood apartment.
So what’s this got to do with gun insurance?
Well, hundreds of thousands of guns go bad by being stolen each year, many from cars. The value of the object being stolen does not seem to be adequate to prevent this problem. Insurers will limit this exposure if they are going to be responsible for the future damage the guns do. Of course, responsible gun owners don’t leave their guns in cars. Insurance is a way to engender that responsibility.
Senators Dingfelder and Burdick with Representative Denbrow have introduced a bill in the Oregon Legislature (SB-758) which is the first effective plan for gun insurance that would provide for victims. It works by imposing strict liability on a gun owner for injuries associated with a gun even for one year after the gun is lost or stolen. There is no limitation to economic damages as is typical of no-fault motor vehicle insurance. The limits are set quite high at $250,000 for physical injury or death. Continue reading
Motor vehicle insurance has been the obvious model for insurance advocated by this blog to provide for victims of gun violence. There are many parallels, especially with No-Fault versions to serving the gun situation. There is another place in our society were insurance was poorly working to protect injured persons and where society with the insurance industry has produced a system which has shown durable benefits in efficiently dealing with an important risk. Continue reading
The best system known to this blog for insuring guns to provide for victims, discourage unsafe practices and not excessively burden gun owners is a Top-Down no-fault personal injury protection insurance system similar to the way that motor vehicle insurance currently works for pedestrians in NY state and Michigan.
If a good solid system of insurance that pays everyone injured by guns is adapted, an obvious question will be “should it cover suicide.” This is likely to be controversial because many people think that payments to survivors would encourage persons thinking of killing themselves. The issue has been worked out for regular life insurance by having “incontestability clauses” which allow such coverage two years after the policy goes into affect. The idea is that a person is unlikely to plan that far ahead which handles the insurers concerns about the hazard of selling insurance to one who knows that it will be soon be paying the benefit.
Social Security pays survivors benefits after the suicide of a parent or spouse who has been married for more than 9 months. In some cases life insurance paid for entirely by employers will pay in cases of suicide with out a waiting period. The requirement is that the insurance be given automatically by the employer and the employee not contribute to the cost. In that case the insurance may or may not have a suicide clause. It seems unlikely that a person will take a job to get insurance covering their planned death and it seems unlikely that a person will buy a gun to get insurance rather than commit suicide in some other way. Continue reading
An article in Bloomberg by Elizabeth Bunn titled “U.S. Insurers Resist Push to Make Gun Owners Get Coverage” has been picked up by various sites on the web. The American Insurance Association, a property-casualty trade association is quoted as saying that gun insurance could have an effect of more gun violence by owners who have less at stake and that “Property and casualty insurance does not and cannot cover gun crimes.” They must be talking about current liability insurance which is written for the benefit of the first party insurance (and gun) owners. They also quote Bob Hartwig president of the Insurance Information Institute as saying “Insurers will not insure illegal acts.”
Insurance which is required for the benefit of third parties injured by some kind of activity often works differently. For example, if in some incident of road rage an insured person intentionally smashes into your car can you collect from his (probably not her) insurance? It varies from state to state. In Texas you can’t, in Massachusetts you can as decided in Cannon v. Commerce Insurance Company, 18 Mass. App. Ct. 984 (1984). In other states there has not been any court decision on the matter and it may depend on the details of language concerning who is an insured party.
In many business situations an intentional act on the part of one insured (often an employee) may create a liability on the part of another insured (the business or corporation itself). Businesses want to protect against such situations and insist that insurers put a “separation of interests” clause in the insurance contract. For an example of a court decision applying that to intentional acts see Minkler v. Safeco Insurance Company of America, (Cal. Sup. Ct., S174016, June 16, 2010). The effect of this is to treat each insured party separately so the the business is insured even if the employee has done an illegal and intentional act which cannot be insured for the employees benefit because of a doctrine of public policy. A more wide ranging example might be a performance bond taken out by a construction company for the benefit of their customer. It protects the customer even if the contractor cheats and steals funds.
The point is that insurance to protect victims of gun violence can and should be structured for that purpose. The model of first party liability insurance is not very good here. No-Fault insurance is a better model. It’s not necessary to have all the characteristics of No-Fault such as the victim’s insurance(if any) paying first, but that would be OK. The use of a pool to cover unknown or uninsured gun owners is very desirable. The one in use many No-Fault states would work for guns.
The proposed laws in various states, most recently in NY, which would mandate liability insurance as a condition of having a gun license do not give details in the type of insurance required other than “liability” and a specified limit. It’s probably for this reason that the Insurance Industry is not yet taking the possibility of requiring insurance to protect victims of gun violence seriously. The insurance industry has found a way to help with almost any risk in the past, except perhaps for flood insurance which would also be possible if universally mandated. There are many published lists of “Principles of Insurability.” Gun insurance measures up well to them. In particular, a general requirement for such insurance will prevent adverse selection. Bob Hartwig also stated “they can’t require companies to offer that coverage.” Insurance companies require a suitable market and insurance structure to provide coverage. That is quite possible for gun insurance. The insurance industry needs to be a part of designing that structure, so far they have not engaged.
A plan for No-Fault insurance for guns must take into account the fact that many of the shootings are likely to be in situations where the gun cannot be traced. Even if a large portion of the guns in existence are brought into the system, there will be many claims where no specific insurer is available to pay. In NY the Motor Vehicle Accident Indemnification Corporation (MVAIC) and in Michigan the Michigan Assigned Claims Plan (MACP) are available if there is no other insurer. The large costs in Michigan where there is unlimited coverage for medical expenses have generated a lot of political backlash. The Michigan Catastrophic Claims Association pays claims over $500,000 and assesses insurance companies $175 (2012) per vehicle. Funding works by having insurers pay on the basis of either a percentage of premiums collected or a fixed amount per vehicle. A system for guns could work in the same way.
Approximately half of the medical costs are now covered by Medicare or Medicaid. If gun insurance is the primary insurance only for identified guns and the Uninsured Pool is secondary to all other insurance the funds needed would be greatly reduced. Unidentified or uninsured guns do not contribute to the incentive for insurers to have loss reduction conditions or programs in any case, so making gun insurance secondary should not undercut the safety benefits of having insurance. It would also give states an incentive to identify the guns involved in injuries to save on Medicaid expenses.
It might also be desirable to have the Uninsured Gun Pool pay claims for incidents that occur after some fixed time has elapsed for guns that are reported lost or stolen. If the time is fairly long the cost would not be too great and would give an incentive for reporting losses in a timely manner. It would make things more predictable for insurers and may help establish a robust market for gun insurance.
When a proposal for requiring insurance for guns is put into a blog discussion, many of the strong pro-gun advocates reacting to the post base their objection on rights as they assume they have them from the second amendment to the US Constitution. These assumptions can be very broad. And I see statements such as “what other rights do you have to pay for?” and “paying for gun insurance is like a Poll Tax.”
Well, I see us paying taxes on the means necessary to exercise a right all the time. Look at your phone bill, it’s full of taxes on a means to communicate. You have a right to travel, but pay taxes on cars and on air and rail tickets.
Poll taxes are really obnoxious, especially the way they were historically used, but they were not found to be unconstitutional until a specific amendment (The 24th Amendment to the US Constitution) was adopted. There is no similar amendment for gun rights. It’s interesting that rather heavy taxes for automatic weapons have never been found to be unconstitutional.
District of Columbia v. Heller is a very narrow decision in itself. It only overturns an extremely restrictive law that totally prohibits gun ownership. Later the court extended it to state laws in another case, McDonald v. Chicago. Since then lots of restrictions on gun use and ownership have been upheld by state courts. Whether the Supreme Court will strike a broader range of gun restrictions in the future is unknown. While lots has been written by legal scholars about the subject, the future path of this law will probably be determined by political considerations. Heller was supported by 5 justices with a strong dissent by 4 justices. It’s possible that it could be rolled back to the old view that any right to bear arms did not apply to individuals or it’s possible that it could be broadened.
As far as insurance is concerned, the system supported by this blog only requires regulations applied to the manufacturer of guns. Any requirement that the insurance be transferred to the subsequent owner, as would be needed to let the manufacturer’s insurer relinquish responsibility, would be a private contract.
On Jan 26, 2013 according to the Pennsylvania State Police 50 guns were stolen from the Taylor and Robbins Gun shop which had been closed for about six years but still had old stock on the location. Two burglers broke in and escaped in a vehicle.
Nearly all of the guns that are in illegal hands or used in crimes in the United States started out as legal guns and by some means passed out of the control of their legal owners. Many of these are due to purchases by straw buyers acting for an inelegible person but many others are due to loss or theft. If an insurance company was still responsible for these guns, it’s very unlikely that they would remain for six years in such a vulnerable situation.
We’re not taking guns seriously in this country, insurance is a big step to becoming responsible.