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).
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.
Much of this blog is about how insurance should be designed and how it would work if an ideal insurance mandate was in place. Opponents of such a mandate point out real and imagined problems that would prevent such insurance from working. When the possibilities are examined the problems turn out only to apply to particular models of insurance and can be avoided by designing the insurance for the particular nature of guns and gun violence.
But there are also transitional problems that could block adoption of an insurance mandate that would work well once it was in place. The most important of these problems is the fact that gun insurance that would protect victims does not exist currently. The insurance that is designed to protect gun owners from accidental or self-defense incidents is very narrow and is not adapted to the need to protect victims even to the extent that existing liability laws could allow the redress in the courts.
A federal requirement that all manufacturers and importers have insurance that protects victims of their products with a top-down provision requiring it to continue until replaced is the core of a successful system for guns. Ideally this requirement would specify the terms and benefits laid out in the next level for state legislation that seriously provides for victims, but this will describe the minimum requirements that should be specified on a national level.
The legislation should require that, before manufacturing or importing a firearm, insurance must be accepted by an insurance company specifically authorized to issue such insurance by some state. In order to make certain that the required financial stability is available, all such insurers should be required to join a pool backed by all such insurers guaranteeing each insurers ability to pay valid claims. Once an insurer accepts responsibility for a certain gun, that responsibility is only relinquished when another qualified insurer takes it on. Continue reading →
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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.
Many states have adopted stand your ground laws that protect shooters in public spaces that accidently(with or without negligence) either unintended bystanders or innocent persons who are wrongly believed to be a threat. This is the most uncontroversial situation where insurance should be required. These innocent people need to be protected and many of them are not insured themselves.
As this blog has argued people who have permits to carry weapons into streets and outside the home. These people are more likely to confront real and perceived threats with an audience of bystanders. They represent an additional risk over those who only have guns for protection in their homes. These risks and the relative ease of insuring against it are described in another post “Enacting a Concealed Carry Insurance Mandate”
While it would be ideal to have a gun insurance adopted at a single time as one well designed national mandate, it’s likely that political reality will force it to come into being in stages. The logical place to start is for the more amenable states to require insurance for holders of permits to carry firearms in public. If this can be extended to general coverage of guns in some of these states, the stage is set for a federal mandate for top-down insurance which extends into any state requiring insurance. This in turn will encourage other states to have their own requirements in order not to have their citizens paying for insurance without their state receiving benefits for victims.
Concealed Carry as a Start and an End in Itself
Mandating gun insurance for holders of permits to carry weapons in public is much simpler than mandating gun insurance in general. Permit holders are already registered with state government agencies; there is no need for an additional registration system. They are generally responsible people who have already shown their willingness to cooperate with reasonable regulations. Insurers will find these people to be desirable customers. Most measures to deal with gun violence have to deal with the flood of illegal weapons that come from states with weak regulation of gun trafficking. But, states requiring insurance for permits can simply refuse to recognize permits from other states without insurance requirements or require proof of insurance in addition to such a permit.
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.
While it would be best to adopt gun insurance in the United States by national legislation that puts into place a full blown no-fault plan with the “Top-Down” provisions to guarantee that it covers all of the millions of guns in the country, it is not necessary to wait until that is politically feasible to make progress in protecting victims. There are several paths where an important part of this protection can be implemented both for it’s own value and to demonstrate the practicality of more complete plans.
The first and the one that already in the public eye is to adopt compulsory liability insurance for gun owners who are registered in particular states. This is the plan that is being offered in state legislatures. It would apply to a fairly small subset of the injuries and killings because it has no way to be in effect for illegal guns. But, as the proportion of gun injuries from legally possessed guns is going up due to a downward trend of crime in general and a greatly increased spread of legal guns, it would have a substantial value. It may very will be accomplished in some places in the next few years. This is the type of adoption that is seen by most writers who suggest insurance in the mass media.
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 →