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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CAR INSURANCE AS AN ILLUSTRATION Continue reading
This is the second post in a series about workers’ compensation insurance as a model for mandating gun insurance. The series starts with Firearms and the History of Workers’ Compensation.
The two sides of the bargain
The Great Bargain of Workers’ Compensation is called that because employers gain immunity from lawsuits for negligence from their workers and the workers gain certainty that they will be compensated for work injuries by compulsory insurance purchased by the employers. As the first post in this series described; the system came out of an intense reform effort from many people determined to protect and benefit workers; but employers, especially the larger firms, also pressed hard for enactment of the system. The result was adoption of compulsory insurance in many states before 1920. Even in states where an employer could elect not to participate (still allowed in Texas) nearly all employers opted in to get protection from liability.
This is the first of a series of posts which are designed to show that workers’ compensation systems, insurance and laws are an excellent–the best that we have–model for dealing with gun violence victim compensation and for reducing that victimization.
A little over one hundred years ago, our country faced a crisis that was quite similar to the gun violence problem that we now face. Industrial and work related accidents were completely out of hand, producing deaths and injuries that reached almost every family. Looking back on my own family history, a great uncle on my fathers side was killed and my mothers grandfather lost an arm–both in railroad accidents of that era. It’s mostly forgotten today but it was a great issue at the beginning of the twentieth century.
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.
One of the main feeders into the pool of illegal guns that cause a large portion of the deaths and injuries is those guns that are obtained through straw purchases. A straw purchase is one that is done by a person with a clean record that can pass a background check to obtain a gun for a prohibited person. For the purposes of this writing straw purchases are distinguished from other channels for guns to enter dangerous hands including:
- Unchecked sales or gifts after the initial purchase
- Theft of guns
- Previously owned guns by persons who subsequently become prohibited persons
- Guns used by persons who are not prohibited from having guns but who are clearly dangerous in hindsight
Straw purchases are the primary input to the “Iron Pipeline” which is the name that New York gives to the practice of buying guns in low regulation states such as Virginia and illegally smuggling them into New York for sale to prohibited persons. The hate killing by a white supremacist in Kansas City in April, 2014 was with a straw purchased weapon.
In addition to policy arguments such as those against putting costs and responsibilities on the public or burdens on gun owners, the insurance industry has offered two major substantive arguments against mandating gun insurance. The first, which is the claim that insurance does not and cannot cover, intentional or criminal arguments is simply false. This has been extensively explored by this blog at the post entitled “Gun Insurance for Willful, Intentional & Criminal Acts.” The second argument is basically a “Chicken and Egg” objection. They claim that insurers have no experience to price such insurance and that without ratings experience such insurance cannot be sold. This post is to show the reasons that this objection is of greatly diminished importance in the case of mandatory gun insurance.
Why can’t insurers simply add up the losses that are occurring as they are reported by emergency rooms, as part of claims for various other kinds of insurance, media reports and government statistics and assign them different weights in an estimate? The basic reason is that, with voluntary insurance, the people who will actually buy the insurance are not a representative sample of the risk exposed public. Sometimes that works for the insurers advantage because people can buy insurance because they are more than typically responsible in many ways and produce fewer than average claims. But those who know that they have an elevated risk can buy insurance for that reason as well. Continue reading
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.
Much of this blog is about how insurance should be designed and how it would work if an ideal insurance mandate was in place. Opponents of such a mandate point out real and imagined problems that would prevent such insurance from working. When the possibilities are examined the problems turn out only to apply to particular models of insurance and can be avoided by designing the insurance for the particular nature of guns and gun violence.
But there are also transitional problems that could block adoption of an insurance mandate that would work well once it was in place. The most important of these problems is the fact that gun insurance that would protect victims does not exist currently. The insurance that is designed to protect gun owners from accidental or self-defense incidents is very narrow and is not adapted to the need to protect victims even to the extent that existing liability laws could allow the redress in the courts.
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. Continue reading
People who are opposed to gun insurance will often make arguments that the cost will be prohibitive. They make guesses that it would cost typical gun owners thousands of dollars and work as a backdoor way to prohibit guns. This is not actually what would happen if insurance was required. We have enough information to make estimates that would put a ceiling on the average cost and it turns out to be quite reasonable. Of course, insurers would take particular situations into account and dangerous owners and situations would pay more than average, perhaps much more; but, that’s realistic and can be handled by the owners taking measures to reduce the dangers.