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.
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.
Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY-12) has introduced a bill, HR-2546, to require insurance for firearm transfers again in the congress. The bill has been co-sponsored by representatives: Blumenauer (OR-3), Clark (MA-5), Grijalva (AZ-3), Lynch (MA-8), McGovern (MA-2), Rangel (NY-13), and Tsongas (MA-3). It is a requirement for liability insurance for sales of firearms. As introduced it does not specify the amount of insurance required or the parties to be protected by the insurance.
This blog has pointed out many times the limitations of the liability insurance model for protecting victims of gun violence; but many people easily see the parallels between the car insurance requirement and the need for gun insurance. Liability insurance, as implemented in various states for the protection of people injured by cars, is often modified by the provisions of a mandate to be in a form which, while called liability insurance, is really based on some other insurance system. These systems are typically called no-fault insurance or personal injury protection as well as being nominally called liability insurance. They pay benefits directly to victims.
One of the good models for gun insurance is found in the requirement for a personal injury protection endorsement to car insurance in Rep. Maloney’s own state, New York. It is codified in New York Regulation 68. This provides for persons not covered by their own insurance (such as most pedestrians) a requirement for no-fault benefits which are paid directly to first parties (injured persons).
The Great Bargain of Workers’ Compensation is called that because employers gain immunity from lawsuits for negligence from their workers and the workers gain certainty that they will be compensated for work injuries by compulsory insurance purchased by the employers. As the first post in this series described; the system came out of an intense reform effort from many people determined to protect and benefit workers; but employers, especially the larger firms, also pressed hard for enactment of the system. The result was adoption of compulsory insurance in many states before 1920. Even in states where an employer could elect not to participate (still allowed in Texas) nearly all employers opted in to get protection from liability.
This is the first of a series of posts which are designed to show that workers’ compensation systems, insurance and laws are an excellent–the best that we have–model for dealing with gun violence victim compensation and for reducing that victimization.
A little over one hundred years ago, our country faced a crisis that was quite similar to the gun violence problem that we now face. Industrial and work related accidents were completely out of hand, producing deaths and injuries that reached almost every family. Looking back on my own family history, a great uncle on my fathers side was killed and my mothers grandfather lost an arm–both in railroad accidents of that era. It’s mostly forgotten today but it was a great issue at the beginning of the twentieth century.
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.