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.
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
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.
Yahoo’s OMG reports that an actress who left the jewelry in her car had it stolen while she was at a friend’s Hollywood apartment.
So what’s this got to do with gun insurance?
Well, hundreds of thousands of guns go bad by being stolen each year, many from cars. The value of the object being stolen does not seem to be adequate to prevent this problem. Insurers will limit this exposure if they are going to be responsible for the future damage the guns do. Of course, responsible gun owners don’t leave their guns in cars. Insurance is a way to engender that responsibility.
Senators Dingfelder and Burdick with Representative Denbrow have introduced a bill in the Oregon Legislature (SB-758) which is the first effective plan for gun insurance that would provide for victims. It works by imposing strict liability on a gun owner for injuries associated with a gun even for one year after the gun is lost or stolen. There is no limitation to economic damages as is typical of no-fault motor vehicle insurance. The limits are set quite high at $250,000 for physical injury or death. Continue reading →
On Jan 26, 2013 according to the Pennsylvania State Police 50 guns were stolen from the Taylor and Robbins Gun shop which had been closed for about six years but still had old stock on the location. Two burglers broke in and escaped in a vehicle.
Nearly all of the guns that are in illegal hands or used in crimes in the United States started out as legal guns and by some means passed out of the control of their legal owners. Many of these are due to purchases by straw buyers acting for an inelegible person but many others are due to loss or theft. If an insurance company was still responsible for these guns, it’s very unlikely that they would remain for six years in such a vulnerable situation.
We’re not taking guns seriously in this country, insurance is a big step to becoming responsible.
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.