Cars v. Guns about Mandatory Insurance

Many people, when asked about the possibility of requiring insurance that would protect victims of gun violence, compare guns to automobiles; and, knowing that we require drivers to have insurance, think that it’s a reasonable thing to do with guns.  It is a reasonable thing; but there are both similarities and differences.

Gun proponents, who often view compulsory insurance as simply an interference with rights they consider to be absolute, tend to offer a number of relatively unimportant differences by asserting things such as  “car insurance isn’t required on private property or unless the car is being driven.”  This isn’t always true; but, more importantly, it has little to do with how to handle a reasonable requirement for gun insurance.

The big difference is the way that we treat responsibility about the two classes of possessions and the politics of that responsibility.  People are used to car owners being responsible for their cars and expressing that responsibility through liability and insurance.  Gun proponents have worked to deflect responsibility away from owners and suppliers of guns and onto gun users; and then from gun users onto victims who can be perceived as responsible for their own injuries when the gun user thinks, rightly or wrongly, that shooting is justified.

The purpose of this post is to point out the similarities and differences that have substantial consequences in the design of appropriate insurance.

Similarities between Cars and Guns

Both are physical devices which have certain dangers and cause a lot of deaths and injuries.  The number of deaths associated with each is comparable, although cars are associated with a lot more injuries.

Both have specific owners who have responsibility for them.  It makes sense to require insurance of the owners.  We do this with cars, even though it would be possible to require insurance only as a condition of having a driver’s license.

Both are owned by large numbers of people and have substantial support for allowing their presence.  We’re not likely to get rid of either one soon, so we should work out ways to deal responsibly with both of them.

Both present dangers which are under a large amount of control based on the way they are used. People using either cars or guns vary tremendously in the amount of danger they present.

The harm done by both occurs in specific incidents and is attributable to one or at most a few of these devices.  Most of the harm is distinct from diffuse or unattributable damage from causes like smog, hit-and-run drivers or random shots falling on New Years Eve.

Differences between Cars and Guns.

Every kind of insurance should be structured to work in the specific conditions  associated with the hazards it covers.  There are important differences that affect the best insurance system for the two situations here.  We can use our extensive experience with motor vehicle insurance as a model, but we must allow for these differences.  Fortunately, there have been many kinds and systems of insurance that have been tried.  It’s almost always possible to find some existing or past insurance experience that addresses any problem that appears.   Those who point to a problem and then say that gun insurance isn’t possible or practical are simply expressing opposition.

Here are some of the differences that have a substantial role in shaping a good gun insurance system.

The majority of car accident victims other than pedestrians are associated as driver or passenger with a car of their own which could be the carrier of insurance.  This is not the case for guns where most victims are not using a gun of their own when a incident occurs.  This means that the kind of no-fault insurance that relies on most injured persons making claims with their own insurance isn’t a good solution for guns.  It should be clear that it’s quite possible to have no-fault insurance where victims make direct claims to the car or gun owners insurance and are paid directly.  Our system of worker’s compensation insurance is an example of no-fault insurance that works that way.

Intentional motor vehicle injuries are rare.  Most gun injuries and deaths are intentional.  Opponents of gun insurance, especially if they represent the insurance industry, are fond of claiming that “insurance can not cover intentional acts.”  This is nowhere near true as we have many kinds of insurance that do cover such acts, they just don’t pay directly to wrongdoers.

Many car accidents involve two cars both of which could be insured.  Some people oppose no-fault insurance because it doesn’t determine which driver is to blame.  No-fault insurance is often adopted for cars because such a determination can be costly, slow and unreliable.  For guns, there is much less of a problem.  It’s easy to determine which party is the shooter and which has been shot.

Cars cause a tremendous cost of medical care for injuries and for repair to damaged vehicles.  This makes car insurance a major part of the expense of driving.  The situation with guns is much more fortunate because, while guns cause a large number of deaths, they injure many fewer persons and do little property damage. Injuries and not deaths are the major cost to insurers. This means that gun insurance for responsible gun owners would not be expensive.

Car incidents involving unidentified or “hit-and-run” drivers are a small part of the motor vehicle injury problem.  Shootings where the gun or the shooter is unknown are common.  Systems such as microstamping, requirements of test casings or traceable projectiles would greatly facilitate gun insurance systems.  Requirements that insurers retain responsibility for lost, stolen or illegally transferred firearms would greatly help with this problem, both directly through coverage and indirectly by the efforts of insurers to keep guns from straying.

Car insurance systems typically have a pool arrangement to compensate victims of uninsured or unknown drivers.  This pool tends to be a fairly small and non-controversial.  Some car insurance systems, such as in Michigan, cover very serious injuries with a pool system for large claims involving insured drivers.  That pool is more costly and the subject of perennial political controversy. The required pool for gun victims has the potential to be large enough to be a problem. It’s possible not to have such a pool, but many deserving  victims would go uncompensated.  Proper use of all other insurance resources, the best possible determination of responsibility and other efficiencies are all important to give wide coverage.

There is a significant problem with fraudulent claims around motor vehicle injury insurance.  When car insurance is the subject of political controversy, this is typically the area of dispute, especially in the case of no-fault insurance.  The problem would be much smaller with gun insurance, because of a smaller number of non-fatal injuries and because the injuries are typically not of a subjective nature.

A system for the efficient settlement of liability claims for motor vehicle incidents has been evolving for over eighty years.  Insurers use rules-of-thumb, negotiate between themselves and avoid the need for lawsuits. This greatly increases the efficiency of the liability model in that area and dilutes the need for the no-fault model.  A new system such as one we would adopt for guns would not start with such an advantage.  This is one of the reasons that a no-fault system is best for gun insurance.

Conclusion

These differences are the reason that gun insurance should be specially developed to deal with the gun violence problem.  Each difference can be viewed as defining a problem that is a barrier to adopting insurance to protect gun violence victims.  But all of the problems have solutions.  For centuries, new systems of insurance have been instituted to deal with each new risk that has arisen. Gun violence is a risk in our society that we are newly coming to grips with, a new system of insurance should be adopted to reduce that risk and would work well as it does in so many other situations.  This blog consists primarily of posts that attempt to look at how to solve problems associated with these differences.

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