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.
If we look at the history of other major activities that have developed mature methods of handling substantial risks, we can find examples. Motor vehicles, for instance, slowly aquired regulation such as licensing and more detailed rules of the road. It became clear that accidents were going to still occur. Financial responsibility laws were adopted, which worked to get people off of the road who were involved in accidents and could not pay for the damage they caused. Sales of voluntary insurance took off as drivers realized they could lose their licenses while an uninsured accident was being litigated. It became clear that the most dangerous drivers were those without insurance, and an insurance mandate was slowly adopted by the various states.
For guns we need many changes in our laws to move to a condition of responsibility. It should be made clear that a gun owner is financially responsible for accidents that happen with his or her gun. For cars, we have laws that hold owners responsible in many situations. For guns, we need a law that gives gun owners a clear duty to keep the gun out of the hands of irresponsible or prohibited persons. Some states have stand your ground laws so broad that negligent shootings in self-defense situations, even of totally innocent bystanders, are excused. Users of firearms should also have a clear duty to avoid shooting unintended persons. For cars, we have adopted laws in most states that establish the absolute duties that establish responsibility in the situations appropriate for motor vehicles. These include hitting other vehicles in the rear or pedestrians in crosswalks; actions which are presumed to be the responsibility of drivers without further proof of negligence. For guns the presumptions should cover things like hitting unintended targets and letting prohibited or underage persons take possession of a gun.
There are many areas where we have legislated strict liability, that is–liability without the need to prove negligence, for various activities. Dog bites, falling scaffolds, swimming pools and alcohol supplied to minors can trigger this in different places. People who improperly transfer guns or allow them to be lost or stolen should have responsibility. This is especially so of a loss or theft is not properly reported.
Insurance can start in the special cases where additional registration of weapons is not required such as for holders of CCW permits or gun businesses. These people are the nexus of a danger to the public and the public deserves to be protected.
From these steps a more general system of responsibility for the actual harm that comes from guns can evolve. The best way to do that without draconian prohibitions of gun ownership is to require a system of insurance. Only people who want both guns and a continuation of our system of irresponsibility around guns should be opposed to such a requirement. Others simply haven’t thought it through.