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.
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
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.
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.
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”
People who are opposed to gun insurance will often make arguments that the cost will be prohibitive. They make guesses that it would cost typical gun owners thousands of dollars and work as a backdoor way to prohibit guns. This is not actually what would happen if insurance was required. We have enough information to make estimates that would put a ceiling on the average cost and it turns out to be quite reasonable. Of course, insurers would take particular situations into account and dangerous owners and situations would pay more than average, perhaps much more; but, that’s realistic and can be handled by the owners taking measures to reduce the dangers.
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.