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.
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.
In a new article “Living on the Edge (of Austrailian Cities: Is Gun Amnesty Effective?” by Isabella Kwai, Adam Baidawi and Tacey Rychter, the New York Times questioned the usefulness of a new three month program to recover illegal guns in that country.
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.
This post was published on Daily Kos.
I have been advocating a mandate for gun insurance for two years now. In order for insurance to cover the majority of shootings, it must cover not only the original, proper or legal owner of a gun but anyone who might pick up the gun or steal it and later use it. This is the most controversial part of my recommendation, which is:
Insurance should be required of manufacturers and importers of firearms that would cover all persons injured with a firearm having at least the benefits for an injured worker of average wages under workers compensation in the state where the injury occurs. The insurance should remain in effect no matter how the gun is transferred to anyone else until it is replaced by similar insurance taken out by a new owner or the gun is certified destroyed.
Ideally, we should adopt a system of insurance that protects and compensates all of the victims of gun violence as a single well thought-out package. The various terms would weight the balance between minimizing the interference with responsible peoples use of firearms and the need to keep them away from irresponsible people. There are many factors that should work together to give the best overall results. But, that isn’t the way that most systems of control and regulation are developed. They come about incrementally. Even before we adopt any requirements for ordinary gun owners and users to be covered by insurance, there are are changes that could set the state. Insurance is a means of maintaining a system and culture of responsibility. Keeping and use of firearms, unlike any other activity in our society, has accrued a large number of provisions, legal and of other kinds, to promote a culture of irresponsibility. If this is rolled back in stages, use of insurance will emerge as a natural step. It will be so because it will be a way of facilitating the responsible use of firearms in a context of demanded responsibility.
One of the main feeders into the pool of illegal guns that cause a large portion of the deaths and injuries is those guns that are obtained through straw purchases. A straw purchase is one that is done by a person with a clean record that can pass a background check to obtain a gun for a prohibited person. For the purposes of this writing straw purchases are distinguished from other channels for guns to enter dangerous hands including:
- Unchecked sales or gifts after the initial purchase
- Theft of guns
- Previously owned guns by persons who subsequently become prohibited persons
- Guns used by persons who are not prohibited from having guns but who are clearly dangerous in hindsight
Straw purchases are the primary input to the “Iron Pipeline” which is the name that New York gives to the practice of buying guns in low regulation states such as Virginia and illegally smuggling them into New York for sale to prohibited persons. The hate killing by a white supremacist in Kansas City in April, 2014 was with a straw purchased weapon.
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.
The insurance model recommended by this blog is designed to have insurer retain responsibility for guns after they are stolen. That means that if a responsible gun owner has a burglary and a gun is stolen and then after the gun changes hands, goes underground and turns up to injure someone in a distant location then the gun owner’s insurance will have to pay. Gun defenders are quick to object and say that the burglar and the shooter are responsible and the gun owner shouldn’t be held to account for their acts.
In those cases the criminals are, of course, responsible and if they can be caught and have resources they should be the first to pay to the injured party. Unfortunately, they often aren’t caught and they don’t have resources and, if they go to prison for their crimes, are unlikely to earn enough in the future to redress the damage they have done. So the question is should the legal gun owner or the gun owner’s insurance be held responsible in light of their role as enablers of this unfortunate situation. My answer is that they should be.