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.
On Thursday May 16, 2013 the District of Columbia held a hearing on the B20-170, Firearm Insurance Amendment Act of 2013 their Gun Insurance Bill. The first panel consisted of Dan Gross, President of the Brady Campaign; Erin Collins from NAMIC; Tom Harvey, Gun Insurance Blog and Kris Hammond, Resident of DC.
The hearing was taped and the video is available here. Written testimony from Dan Gross, Kris Hammond and Chester A. McPherson is here. News coverage generally ignored the supporters of the bill. For example see the Washington Post Story.
After preliminary remarks by Committee Chair Vincent Orange and Councilmember Mary M.Cheh (the bill sponsor) the first to present was Dan Gross who gave a good presentation in support of the bill outlining the seriousness of gun violence in the US. He gave an example illustrating that current insurance does not apply even to many accidents, if it is available at all. He stated that “it is absolutely unfair to saddle innocent victims with all the costs.
Erin Collins gave a presentation of the industries opposition to mandating insurance for guns. It stated that this insurance was unnecessary and impractical and repeated that it couldn’t cover intentional acts.
Tom Harvey for this blog gave an oral version of the written statement below but added examples to counter the statement by MS Collins that insurance couldn’t cover intentional acts. Continue reading
A new post by Julia Hartman on the PreventingNewtown blog titled “A Case for Gun Liability Insurance” gives a thoughtful and interesting discussion of the benefits of requiring insurance to protect victims of gun violence.
The post gives a moving presentation of the damage done daily by guns and calls for insurance as a way to deal with the problem. It makes the comparison to motor vehicles and points out the fact that gun deaths exceed motor vehicle deaths in 10 states currently. Suicides are handled on a par with homicides and accidents, an position which is often opposed by those supporting the status quo for gun policy.
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.
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.
If a good solid system of insurance that pays everyone injured by guns is adapted, an obvious question will be “should it cover suicide.” This is likely to be controversial because many people think that payments to survivors would encourage persons thinking of killing themselves. The issue has been worked out for regular life insurance by having “incontestability clauses” which allow such coverage two years after the policy goes into affect. The idea is that a person is unlikely to plan that far ahead which handles the insurers concerns about the hazard of selling insurance to one who knows that it will be soon be paying the benefit.
Social Security pays survivors benefits after the suicide of a parent or spouse who has been married for more than 9 months. In some cases life insurance paid for entirely by employers will pay in cases of suicide with out a waiting period. The requirement is that the insurance be given automatically by the employer and the employee not contribute to the cost. In that case the insurance may or may not have a suicide clause. It seems unlikely that a person will take a job to get insurance covering their planned death and it seems unlikely that a person will buy a gun to get insurance rather than commit suicide in some other way. 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.
I’ve been writing for a short while about my ideas on how to deal with guns and the deaths and injuries they cause through insurance. I am thinking about how we could have a solution that would eliminate most of the carnage, but still allow people to have what they want in a less dangerous way. I do appreciate the fun that people have as a valuable thing no matter where it comes from. Life seems to be double peaked about that, fun when you’re young, then several decades of being serious and then you realize that life is about the experiences you have.
So, when I see the most vocal of the pro-gun people go purple with rage if they think someone is going to take their guns away, I know how they feel. And that just how I feel about having my access to the knowledge of my world being blocked. My first amendment rights are being infringed and the first amendment is first and before the second amendment.
What need to be done about guns is not simple and needs great thought. It’s just that they cause great pain and suffering and that must stop. People who have an investment of their time and interest in guns are entitled to have their views taken into consideration. The NRA, on the other hand, is an organization that is willing to destroy any of the great traditions of our country for its narrow purpose. They would trade all of America’s freedoms for some tiny increase in gun sales.
I posted the last article “How to Seriously Approach Gun Insurance That Protects Everyone” on this blog to Daily Kos. I’ve been getting quite a few comments. Half or so are positive and the rest are very interesting. The three things I need to study so far from the problems pointed out are: It’s hard to explain the point of my approach so a quick reader working from scratch will get it, a lot of people think it won’t slow down the rate of injuries and deaths and a lot of people think insurance companies are just a rip off. The last two problems are strongly affected by the way the system is implemented and I need to give that a lot of thought. Good to get informative feedback. Not much general negative feed back but some think that guns shouldn’t be touched at all.
Eugene Robinson has an article “Stop the gun madness” in the Washington Post opinion section. It calls for regulation but does not mention regulation. It’s of interest to this blog because of the flood of comments. There are over 2000 comments in about 24 hours as of 4:45 EST on Jan 1, 2013 and it is getting several comments a minute. A rough scan of the comments shows a mixture with more in favor of increased regulation. I think this reflects Robinson’s usual readership but is different than the bulk of comments in other places which are typically hostle and opposed to all gun regulation. It raises the question of whether the dialog will permenently change after Newtown.