How Should DC React to the New Gun Carry Decision?

The District of Columbia is scrambling to react to a Federal District Court decision that threatens to invalidate the ban on carrying guns for self-defense in DC.  The current law in accordance with the direct decision by the Supreme Court in Heller v. DC forbids carrying guns outside the home except by certain classes of armed professionals.  There has been a 90 day suspension of the application of this decision for an appeal which could be used to enact legislation which allows registration for that purpose.  If DC is required to allow individuals to carry guns in public there are various options in regulating such carrying that are in accordance with the recommendations of this blog.

They should certainly increase the level of responsibility that gun owners have if their guns result in injury.  They can pass provisions in the Municipal Code which are parallel to the specific requirements that give motorists a duty not to follow so closely as to strike other vehicles in the rear and a duty not to strike pedestrians in crosswalks.   There should be provisions in the DC Code to establish a duty, with a presumption of negligence if not followed, to avoid the following:

  • Allowing a gun to make an unintentional discharge.
  • Allowing a gunshot to strike an unintentional target or a person not intended to be shot.
  • Allowing a gun to get into the hands of an underage person or a person prohibited from possessing firearms.

This could even be carried a step further in establishing strict liability for injuries caused by guns in a manner similar the the dog bite rules in about half of the states.

Most importantly from the viewpoint of this blog, they can pass a requirement for mandatory insurance for anyone carrying a gun in public, whether they are working in an armed profession or not.  DC already requires insurance for a security agency that employees more than 5 people.  Special police licenses which allow holders to be armed on the job are not given to individuals outside the scope of jobs for appropriate organizations.  An insurance bill was introduced last year but not passed.  This blogger gave testimony at the hearings.

While it may not be an opportunity to adopt the full extend of an insurance mandate as advocated by this blog, the provisions of any insurance requirement should follow as much as possible the principles that give maximum protection to victims.  In this case:

  • Coverage should not be dependent on the negligence of the gun owner. Victims need the benefits even if the owner is careful, but an accident occurs anyway; and it’s often hard to establish the precise facts of an incident.
  • Benefits should be based on the losses suffered. Medical care and lost wages are both important. Dependents of persons killed need support.
  • Intentional acts should be covered. Most shootings are intentional on the part of the shooter but accidents on the part of the victim. As is done in many other kinds of insurance, intention should be determined from the viewpoint of the victim. Exclusions concerning intentionality should be limited to self-harm.
  • Exclusions from coverage based on self-defense should be limited to victims that are actually and clearly engaged in felonious acts. The belief of the shooter may be relevant in determining criminal responsibility but it should not be relevant to determination of insurance coverage. Shooting is not an appropriate response to misdemeanors.
  • Coverage should continue for guns that improperly leave the control of their owners. One of the greatest dangers the widespread carrying of guns would pose is that the guns may end up in illegal hands. At the very least insurers should be responsible until the loss is properly reported so that there is no doubt about coverage of gun injuries when a gun is taken, lent or otherwise transferred during an incident. Because theft of guns from cars or of guns left in public places is such a great contributor to deaths and injuries, coverage is best if it continues indefinitely or for a substantial period for guns so lost.

While DC is a very special case because of being entirely an urban area next to a state with very loose gun laws, it is also likely to be the first place to attempt to develop an effective insurance mandate.  It may serve to demonstrate that compulsory insurance is practical and beneficial.