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.
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.
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”
Concealed carry permits provide a situation where gun insurance is needed that is much simpler than guns in general. Taking the guns out into the community provides an additional reason to provide guaranteed financial responsibility and many of the problems that have to be overcome to design good insurance are mitigated. Some of the reasons that required insurance would be easier to implement are:
Most permit holders are generally responsible people and many have purchased or would purchase liability insurance to give legal protection to the insurance owner. The insurance that will be recommended here is much broader than currently available liability insurance which is designed to protect victims, it will also provide better protection to the permit holder.
Permit holders are already registered with government entities. Enforcement of this insurance requirement will not require a new registration system.
The problem that “criminals won’t buy insurance” is not applicable as they won’t have permits.
Insurers are likely to be more willing to provide the required insurance to this group.
The Supreme Court of the United States has declared that there is Constitutional protection for having self defense guns in the home; but it has not done so for guns in other places.
There are also good reasons over and above the reasons for guns in general to require this insurance for guns being carried in the community: Continue reading →
When a proposal for requiring insurance for guns is put into a blog discussion, many of the strong pro-gun advocates reacting to the post base their objection on rights as they assume they have them from the second amendment to the US Constitution. These assumptions can be very broad. And I see statements such as “what other rights do you have to pay for?” and “paying for gun insurance is like a Poll Tax.”
Well, I see us paying taxes on the means necessary to exercise a right all the time. Look at your phone bill, it’s full of taxes on a means to communicate. You have a right to travel, but pay taxes on cars and on air and rail tickets.
Poll taxes are really obnoxious, especially the way they were historically used, but they were not found to be unconstitutional until a specific amendment (The 24th Amendment to the US Constitution) was adopted. There is no similar amendment for gun rights. It’s interesting that rather heavy taxes for automatic weapons have never been found to be unconstitutional.
District of Columbia v. Heller is a very narrow decision in itself. It only overturns an extremely restrictive law that totally prohibits gun ownership. Later the court extended it to state laws in another case, McDonald v. Chicago. Since then lots of restrictions on gun use and ownership have been upheld by state courts. Whether the Supreme Court will strike a broader range of gun restrictions in the future is unknown. While lots has been written by legal scholars about the subject, the future path of this law will probably be determined by political considerations. Heller was supported by 5 justices with a strong dissent by 4 justices. It’s possible that it could be rolled back to the old view that any right to bear arms did not apply to individuals or it’s possible that it could be broadened.
As far as insurance is concerned, the system supported by this blog only requires regulations applied to the manufacturer of guns. Any requirement that the insurance be transferred to the subsequent owner, as would be needed to let the manufacturer’s insurer relinquish responsibility, would be a private contract.
An article, “Gun used to kill N.Y. cop came from Virginia” published 1-26-13 in the Virginian-Pilot illustrates the kind of gun leakage from legal to illegal hands that insurance could discourage. Colleen Long writes that a robbery in 2011 resulted in the death of a New York City police officer, who was shot in the head. As our system for tracing guns that turn up in crimes relies on records kept by federal licensed dealers, the 9mm semi-automatic Ruger pistol was found to be sold legally in 1999 by a dealer in Colonial Heights, Va.
The buyer of the gun in that legal transaction said that the gun was in possessions he had packed but had ended up abandoning, when he was evicted from an apartment. The story linked above is interesting with more details.
One obvious question is, do we believe the story about the loss of the gun? A Ruger 9mm is not an especially valuable gun. According to firearmspriceguide.com a used one is worth about $200 to $400 depending on condition. A person being evicted may very well abandon a lot of stuff, so it could be true. But the gun did drop into illegal hands and end up in New York. If an insurance company had responsibility for for that gun that continued after it was lost, that insurer would have a strong incentive to require the owner to keep control of the gun. The value of the gun itself was not sufficient motive.
The laws of the State of New York couldn’t stop the gun from being illegally brought from Virginia. The laws of Virginia don’t insure that owner keep track of guns in a way that prevents their loss, illegal sale or abandonment. An insurance company on the hook would, no doubt, require the owner to periodically demonstrate that the gun was still under control. There would be some financial committment on the part of the owner, sufficient to convince the insurer that the gun would stay in legal hands.
This story is special because the victim was a police officer, which provided the motivation for tracing the gun and for the paper writing about it. Thousand of other killings with illegal guns are similar in many ways. As the article says 85% of the illegal guns in New York come from out of state.