A federal requirement that all manufacturers and importers have insurance that protects victims of their products with a top-down provision requiring it to continue until replaced is the core of a successful system for guns. Ideally this requirement would specify the terms and benefits laid out in the next level for state legislation that seriously provides for victims, but this will describe the minimum requirements that should be specified on a national level.
A bill (H.R.1369) proposing mandated gun insurance was introduced in the United States Congress in 2013, but it did not specify details of the insurance required in the language of its introduced.
The legislation should require that, before manufacturing or importing a firearm, insurance must be accepted by an insurance company specifically authorized to issue such insurance by some state. In order to make certain that the required financial stability is available, all such insurers should be required to join a pool backed by all such insurers guaranteeing each insurers ability to pay valid claims. Once an insurer accepts responsibility for a certain gun, that responsibility is only relinquished when another qualified insurer takes it on.
Minimum benefits for the insurance should be set by the federal legislation, but if the state in which the gun is involved in an incident causing injury or death has adopted more generous benefits, then those benefits should apply. Allowing the states with serious concerns about gun injuries and deaths to set their own benefit levels has advantages. Their more generous benefits will give states with less gun restrictions and the insurers in these states a motivation to take measures preventing the flow of guns illegally outside their borders. States will be able to adopt a level of benefits commensurate with the needs of their citizens. They will be able to make decisions about the level of death benefits and coverage in cases of suicide.
It’s necessary for insurers to know the risks when issuing insurance with exposure in a diversity of areas. To facilitate this knowledge the potential benefits for claimants could be set at the level in effect in each state at the time the insurance is issued. This level should then be reset to current values and terms every time the gun legally changes hands. The disadvantages of this time structure of benefits is that some gun victims will not get recently adopted benefits and the claim process will be more complicated; but it’s probably necessary.
The principles setup in the previous chapter on top-down insurance should be followed in this mandate. Because most of the deaths and injuries occur after the gun moves illegally into the hands of persons who are unlikely to buy insurance, the insurance purchased by prior owners should stay in effect.
The database required to connect guns with insurers should also be part of this legislation and should be set up by it. It should contain the names and dates of insurer responsibility, gun identification data and perhaps flags for guns known to be stolen or otherwise presenting special risks but not information about the owners of guns. Precise location information is unnecessary but state and county information would be useful in identifying guns in some cases. The information in the database should be public to facilitate claims, for transparency and to facilitate academic study of gun violence.
The existing pool of guns should be brought into the system as will be discussed below. If the database is made to allow inquiries in real time by law enforcement agencies it will allow for a check that guns that come to the attention of law enforcement are properly insured.
Example of Possible Federal Legislation
Relating to requiring insurance for manufacturers and importers of certain weapons.
SECTION 1. As used in sections 2 to 5 of this Act:
(1) “Firearm” means a rifle, shotgun, pistol, revolver or any device defined as a firearm by the National Firearms Act.
(2) “Qualified Insurer” means an insurer authorized by insurance regulatory authorities of the state in which the Firearm is manufactured, imported, transferred or kept.[a]
(3) “Qualified Insurance” means insurance issued by a Qualified Insurer and which meets the requirements of Section 3. of this act.
(4) “Wanted Gun Data” means information referring to a particular firearm supplied by any federal, state or local law enforcement agency pertaining to actual or suspected involvement of that firearm in any illegal activity or reported loss or theft of the firearm.
(5) “Secretary” means the Secretary of the Treasury, personally, or his delegate.
(6) “Worker’s Compensation Equivalent Benefits” are all benefits that would accrue to a person covered as an employee making no less that the average weekly wage as determined by the laws of the state in which the injury occurs.[b]
SECTION 2. Requirement for insurance:
Any manufacturer or importer of a Firearm is required to have a contract binding a policy with a Qualified Insurer prior to importing or manufacturing a Firearm that covers that Firearm with Qualified Insurance upon its manufacturer or importation.
SECTION 3. Requirements for Qualified Insurance:
Qualified insurance must:
(1) Specify the particular Firearm to which it applies.
(2) Cover all injuries produced by the covered Firearm or in an incident where the covered Firearm was displayed or discharged.[c]
(3) Provide minimum benefits to injured persons that equal or exceed Worker’s Compensation Equivalent Benefits[d], and
(4) Provide minimum benefits to injured persons that equal or exceed benefits required for Qualified Insurance by the state in which the injury occurs.[e]
(5) Remain in effect until replaced by a succeeding contract of insurance by another qualified insurer entered in the registry here established regardless of any legal or illegal transfer of the Firearm.[f]
(6) Cover all accidental injuries involving the Firearm and intentional injuries involving the Firearm by any person other than the injured person.[g]
SECTION 4. Establishment of Insurance Registry
The Secretary shall maintain a central registry of firearm insurance. This registry will:
(1) Contain the manufacturer, model, description and serial number of the firearm with other firearm identification information determined to be relevant by the Secretary.[h]
(2) Contain the name of each insurer and the date that each insurer begins responsibility for the particular firearm.[i]
(3) Contain Wanted Gun Data.[j]
(4) Not contain information intended to identify the owner, possessor or location of the firearm, except as supplied as part of Wanted Gun Data.[k]
(5) Be publicly available for any purpose, except that Wanted Gun Data may be restricted by the Secretary in accordance to a request by the agency supplying the data.
(6) Each manufacturer or importer will confirm that the Firearm is listed in the Insurance Registry prior to transferring the Firearm to any other person.
(7) Each insurer will only relinquish responsibility for incidents occurring after a succeeding Qualified Insurer is listed in the Insurance Registry.
SECTION 5. Preexisting guns covered if so required by a State.
(1) Any State may require that Firearms manufactured or imported prior the enactment of this Chapter be covered by Qualified Insurance.[l]
(2) A State may make a requirement for insurance and for regardless of any other federal law allowing the Firearm to be brought into or transported through the state.[m]
(3) The State may require that such insurance be included in the Insurance Registry.
[a] States generally regulate and qualify insurers and will continue to do so under this law.
[b] All states have worker’s compensations which would provide a means of administrating benefits without having to set up separate systems for gun injuries.
[c] Covering incidents allows coverage for indirect injuries such a of people fleeing the scene of the incident and simplifies situations where multiple firearms are involved.
[d] In addition to using the worker’s compensation system to administer claims, this provides a floor under benefits for states that might not want to legislate appropriate benefit levels.
[e] States can make requirements to reissue insurance meeting state standards for legal guns, but need this to be able to guarantee benefit levels for injuries from guns arriving illegally inside their borders.
[f] This is the provision that guarantees that insurance will be in place for lost, stolen or improperly transferred firearms. It can be assumed that insurers will add terms to their policies to make sure that gun owners control these risks.
[g] Exclude only self-harm which matches most worker’s compensation systems.
[h] It is expected that the registry could be expanded to include scans or references to samples of fired cartridges, projectiles or other such advanced firearm identification data.
[i] To confirm that the insurance exists and to allow injured persons to file claims.
[j] States, particularly those who require that existing guns be brought into the system, will be able to check the registry to see if a gun is legal. It would be very convenient for law enforcement officers in the field to be able to check in real time from the location where a gun comes to their attention.
[k] This provision is the politically critical avoidance of setting up a government gun registry. This is only an insurance registry.
[l] Any state can extend the system by requiring that gun in their state be added by owners.
[m] There are several federal laws limiting state regulation of guns brought into a state by retired law enforcement officers, transients etc. This should not prevent a state from requiring that its citizens be protected by insurance in the case of existing firearms.
Call for Action
This sort of legislation would go a long way to reducing the damage from the gun violence problem in the United States. Everyone with an interest in this matter should press their congressperson and senators to adopt a gun insurance bill as quickly as possible.