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.
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).
The Great Bargain of Workers’ Compensation is called that because employers gain immunity from lawsuits for negligence from their workers and the workers gain certainty that they will be compensated for work injuries by compulsory insurance purchased by the employers. As the first post in this series described; the system came out of an intense reform effort from many people determined to protect and benefit workers; but employers, especially the larger firms, also pressed hard for enactment of the system. The result was adoption of compulsory insurance in many states before 1920. Even in states where an employer could elect not to participate (still allowed in Texas) nearly all employers opted in to get protection from liability.
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.
This is the first of a series of posts which are designed to show that workers’ compensation systems, insurance and laws are an excellent–the best that we have–model for dealing with gun violence victim compensation and for reducing that victimization.
A little over one hundred years ago, our country faced a crisis that was quite similar to the gun violence problem that we now face. Industrial and work related accidents were completely out of hand, producing deaths and injuries that reached almost every family. Looking back on my own family history, a great uncle on my fathers side was killed and my mothers grandfather lost an arm–both in railroad accidents of that era. It’s mostly forgotten today but it was a great issue at the beginning of the twentieth century.
Many people, when asked about the possibility of requiring insurance that would protect victims of gun violence, compare guns to automobiles; and, knowing that we require drivers to have insurance, think that it’s a reasonable thing to do with guns. It is a reasonable thing; but there are both similarities and differences.
Gun proponents, who often view compulsory insurance as simply an interference with rights they consider to be absolute, tend to offer a number of relatively unimportant differences by asserting things such as “car insurance isn’t required on private property or unless the car is being driven.” This isn’t always true; but, more importantly, it has little to do with how to handle a reasonable requirement for gun insurance.
The big difference is the way that we treat responsibility about the two classes of possessions and the politics of that responsibility. People are used to car owners being responsible for their cars and expressing that responsibility through liability and insurance. Gun proponents have worked to deflect responsibility away from owners and suppliers of guns and onto gun users; and then from gun users onto victims who can be perceived as responsible for their own injuries when the gun user thinks, rightly or wrongly, that shooting is justified.
The purpose of this post is to point out the similarities and differences that have substantial consequences in the design of appropriate insurance.
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.
The National Rifle Association (NRA) and several other companies or organizations sell or sponsor the sale of insurance to defend and indemnify gun owners from liability in self defense situations. They do this on a nationwide basis and promise protection in a wide range of situations where the purpose of the gun use is to defend ones person or property. The point of this insurance is to have no restriction against covering self-defense as an intentional or willful act. The question raised in this post is: How can this be possible under California’s Insurance Code?
In addition to policy arguments such as those against putting costs and responsibilities on the public or burdens on gun owners, the insurance industry has offered two major substantive arguments against mandating gun insurance. The first, which is the claim that insurance does not and cannot cover, intentional or criminal arguments is simply false. This has been extensively explored by this blog at the post entitled “Gun Insurance for Willful, Intentional & Criminal Acts.” The second argument is basically a “Chicken and Egg” objection. They claim that insurers have no experience to price such insurance and that without ratings experience such insurance cannot be sold. This post is to show the reasons that this objection is of greatly diminished importance in the case of mandatory gun insurance.
Why can’t insurers simply add up the losses that are occurring as they are reported by emergency rooms, as part of claims for various other kinds of insurance, media reports and government statistics and assign them different weights in an estimate? The basic reason is that, with voluntary insurance, the people who will actually buy the insurance are not a representative sample of the risk exposed public. Sometimes that works for the insurers advantage because people can buy insurance because they are more than typically responsible in many ways and produce fewer than average claims. But those who know that they have an elevated risk can buy insurance for that reason as well. Continue reading →