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.
This is the second post in a series about workers’ compensation insurance as a model for mandating gun insurance. The series starts with Firearms and the History of Workers’ Compensation.
The two sides of the bargain
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.
Similarities between Cars and Guns
We see armed people working around us on a daily basis. Some of these private professionals are highly visible such as guards for banks and armored car services and some are less obvious to the eye such as private investigators or detectives. In almost all states there are requirements for them to have licenses and in most states they must have insurance or bonds that function as insurance. But there is tremendous variation in the requirements and in the definitions and terminology of the various roles.
This post is a good place to start if you’re new to this blog. Scan the questions and follow the ‘Related:’ link(s) if you have an interest in a particular area. You may also want to check the category’s listed in the right hand column.
Q: What is the purpose of mandating gun insurance?
Required insurance for guns or gun owners should be designed to provide benefits for victims of gun accidents or violence. Insurers will automatically take appropriate steps to encourage gun safety as part of their loss control and underwriting activities.
Q: What specifically would be the best insurance system for guns?
Each state should adopt a system of no-fault insurance with a system of delivering medical and cash benefits directly to victims. This insurance should be required to be in place for any firearm brought into or kept in the state in order for that firearm to be legal. It should provide all of the benefits available to victims of motor vehicle or workplace injuries.
One of the things that opponents of gun insurance or insurance trade representatives often say is that insurance cannot cover intentional or criminal acts. This is simply false.
There are many kinds of insurance that cover such acts. The key is that the insurance pays to the victim and not the wrongdoer. It doesn’t have to matter if the deed is done by the purchaser of the insurance or another insured person. It is important the the policy be written to make this clear; policies that exist at least partially for the benefit of third parties typically work that way. Insurance that is compelled by law for an activity often applies in these cases even if it’s not spelled out in the policy, but courts differ on this point and an explicit requirement in the legislation and in policy language is a good idea.
Insurance textbooks teach that whether an act is accidental or willful is determined from the viewpoint of the insured. Mandatory insurance should treat a victim as an also insured party. This is necessary because the purpose of many kinds of insurance is to protect the insured against the willful acts of outsiders. An example would be a day care center that is negligent in screening visitors who might commit an abuse against a child. From that viewpoint, a act that is deliberate on the part of the abuser is an accident to the victim.
The answer to the question of whether we need to mandate gun insurance at the federal or the state level is to have the mandate at the federal level and the regulation of the insurance at a state level. The special problems that guns have of illegally traveling across state lines to do their damage and of states varying so much in their willingness to regulate guns can be solved by this structure. The federal mandate should implement the top-down process for continuing insurer responsibility advocated by this blog. It should require that the insurance pay benefits to victims in accordance with the gun insurance requirement in the state where the shooting occurs.
One of the special difficulties that makes guns different than almost any other risk, is that move around from state to state so easily once they are in illegal hands. Much of the country has a relatively small problem with illegal guns and people there see no need to make access difficult. In other parts of the country, there is a major problem with death and injuries from illegal guns. No matter how carefully places like New York, Chicago and Washington, DC work to stop the transfer of firearms to dangerous people they cannot control the flood of weapons that come in from areas with more permissive policies. The process has been named the Iron Pipeline.
This blog believes that requiring insurance is a practical way to deal with the problem. Insurers that remain responsible for deaths and injuries from guns after they pass into illegal hands will set up conditions to prevent that passage. They will find ways to do this that are minimal inconveniences to legitimate gun owners. The question is how to get a requirement for such insurance into place in this environment. The states that sell the most guns are least likely to make such a mandate.
In order to have a system of insurance the covers the dangers of having guns in our society, it is necessary to have a way to be sure that insurance exists that covers each victimization. The simplest system is to mandate the insurance and have the government check that it is in place. This requires that the government be aware of the identity of the gun owners in order to enforce the mandate. This means registration of guns or gun owners. The political objection to this is very great. If it is necessary to override this objection or wait for it to dissipate, then implementation of insurance for gun victims will be greatly delayed.
The Objection To Registration
Many people who are concerned about gun safety are not aware of the depth of the fear of government held by some of the gun rights defenders. There are a considerable number who have deep and broad paranoia which has been focused on this issue with severe personal mental health issues but an even larger number are simply trained to express this distrust by gun organizations, the media and those who want even more guns in circulation. Even more are aware that some form of tracking guns is essential for application of many measures to control or limit their circulation. They may fight registration of firearms as a way to prevent control of firearms.
The purpose of having insurance for victims of gun violence is to provide money for the many needs they have after they suffer from a shooting. The insurance should be structured to pay in the various situations that occur, for the various needs that are faced and in a timely manner. There are lots of kinds of insurance in use today and several ones will be examined in the chapters that follow. Starting with the most basic insurance designed only to protect the buyer of the insurance, we will add features until we see that it is possible to create a system that works to provide the needed protection. We’ll start with the simplest in the progression. Continue reading