A Straightforward Recommendation for Gun Insurance

FIVE REASONS TO MANDATE GUN INSURANCE

To require additional individual responsibility such as locking up firearms

To provide victims with needed funds for medical and other costs

To make those causing the deaths and injuries pay, rather than the public through Medicaid or the victims through private health insurance

To supplement public regulatory oversight with private insurance company oversight

To encourage new technologies such as “safe guns” that would reduce accidents

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Precursors to Gun 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.

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New Bill SB2646 for Gun Insurance in Illinois Covers Intentional

Illinois Majority Caucus Chairman Ira I. Silverstein has introduced a new bill (SB2656) in the Illinois General Assembly to require that gun owners have liability insurance.  This bill covers willful as well as accidental shootings by the owner or others.  It covers lost or stolen guns until they are reported.

This would be very helpful legislation if adopted as introduced and could form the basis of a more detailed and developed requirement to cover more victims.  Because it designates continued responsibility for unreported stolen guns it recognized the important of gun theft for supply to illegal gun possession.

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The Role of Reinsurance in Mandated Gun Insurance

A gun insurance system designed to encourage safe practices will need to maintain insurer responsibility for lost, stolen or improperly transferred guns. This is essential also to using continuing insurer responsibility as the means of guaranteeing coverage of all guns once they enter the system. Insurers will face risks that continue into the indefinite future for guns whose location is unknown. Specialists in assessing these risks will be needed to encourage the sale of this insurance. This is often done by specialty reinsurance companies in various areas in our economy.

Reinsurance is the practice of insurers buying their own insurance from other companies and thereby transferring part of the risk out of their hands.

Separation of risk after loss or theft

The primary insurer will be able to treat their risk as that of having to buy reinsurance in the event that the gun owner loses control of the insured gun. As the specialty reinsurers establish a market with prices and terms for assuming the risks, the primary insurers will become able to view themselves as selling insurance for the risk of having such a loss of control of the gun. This attitude on the part of insurers is just what is needed to have them take the best role in demanding safe practices. They will put terms in their policies that are designed to stop guns from straying and, thereby, protect the public from the effects of stolen and diverted guns.

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Questions and Answers on Mandating Gun Insurance.

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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.

Related: Insurance-Good for Victims, Safety and Gun Owners

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.

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Opposition to Mandatory Insurance in 1929

It’s becoming clear that the underlying reason for insurance industry opposition to requiring insurance for guns is the latest move in a very old battle to keep the government out of regulating insurance and leaving the path clear for insurers to maximize their interests and profits.  In a fascinating book from 1929 presenting both sides of the debate Edison L. Bowers, its editor from Ohio State University, wrote in an introduction:

No large group of persons stands as sponsors for compulsory automobile insurance in any of its forms, although an association has been formed to promote the compensation insurance idea. As already suggested, however, there is a strong undercurrent of public opinion to the effect that something needs to be done to curb the growing menace of the automobile, and that compulsory insurance of some sort will help in that direction. The opposition, on the other hand, is much better organized and considerably stronger. Both the United States Chamber of Commerce and the American Automobile Association have declared against compulsory insurance in its present contemplated form. The latter organization opposes it particularly on the ground that such insurance would not prevent accidents, which end is the basic issue in the problem.

 

The strongest opposition comes from a source least expected. The insurance companies have definitely declared against compulsory insurance. Their attitude has added new fuel to the controversy. It has raised the old issue of the “vested interests” versus the public. … the private interests present the argument that legislation should never invade the realm of private enterprise, that any change contrary to the welfare of private interests is un-American, socialistic, and perhaps unconstitutional.[i]

By the time compulsory insurance was being adopted in New York State in 1956 at least 85% of the motorists in that state had voluntary insurance with almost no regulation of terms and rates.  The insurers were loth to allow a mandate which they were sure (and correctly so) would lead to regulation and especially regulation of rates.  This history indicates that the insurance industry is no friend of the public but it will bend to the public will when it is finally expressed and then will serve the public.

[i] Edison L. Bowers, “Introductory Note,” in Selected Articles on Compulsory Automobile Insurance: Liability and Compensation for Personal Injury, ed. Edison L. Bowers (The H.W. Wilson Company, 1929), 16.

New Analysis on Guns, Insurance and the Second Amendment by Lund and Gilles.

A paper “Mandatory Liability Insurance for Firearm Owners: Design Choices and Second Amendment Limits” has been published by Nelson Lund of the George Mason U. School of Law and by Stephen G. Gilles of the Quinnipiac University School of law. While there have been simple calls for requiring gun insurance and comparisons of guns and cars at various times, Nelson Lund’s paper of 25 years ago “The Second Amendment, Political Liberty, and the Right to Self-Preservation” in the Alabama Law Review is the only serious and significant source known to this blog to address the issue prior to the Sandy Hook incident. The title of the new paper fairly describes its focus. Many issues of interest to those who want to think about the possibilities of using insurance to protect the public and compensate shooting victims are raised.

The authors of the paper are among those who believe that the Second Amendment gives individuals wide gun rights and that the narrow findings of the Heller decision only start to describe the limits of governmental regulation in this area. Others believe that Heller was the product of a momentary and ideological combination of justices which will not be expanded and will eventually fade in importance or even be overturned. The paper takes the view that, even under the broad interpretation of the Second Amendment, mandated insurance may have a role in containing gun violence. It does, however, see that role as being much more limited than does the author of this blog.

While this blog does not consider the Second Amendment as a major barrier to implementing effective gun insurance, many others do. This new academic analysis by widely respected conservative philosophers and thinkers is very valuable in laying out the nature of that objection. The paper should be read and considered carefully by anyone who is serious about understanding the possible role of insurance in dealing with America’s gun violence problem.

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