We have responsible ways to handle things which are dangerous but which are not made illegal because of their actual or assumed benefits to society. We look carefully at ways to contain the dangers and enjoy the benefits in almost every case. The exception is firearms, but we are just beginning to pull our heads out of the sand and examine this important subject.
First Principle — Mandatory No-Fault Insurance to Cover All Victims
One of the most powerful tools to facilitate a dangerous activity is insurance. Unfortunately, requiring insurance to cover gun violence has been looked at only as a way to penalize gun ownership or at least to transfer costs to gun owners. The result is calls for high limit liability insurance, usually with terms that make actual implementation unlikely. This blog argues that the tort/liability model is one of the least effective ways to increase safety and provide for victims. A No-Fault system similar to worker’s compensation or some motor vehicle insurance is much better. It needs to follow a gun that changes hands in a way to insure that all guns are covered.
Second Principle — Top Down Insurance Does Not Require Gun Registration or Owner Tracking
This blog also is advocating that insurance be required of gun manufacturers or anyone bringing a gun into the system in such a way that the insurer only relinquishes responsibility when another insurer (contracted by a new owner) takes it up. Insurance should remain in effect through any transfer legal or not. This would allow confidence that insurance was always in effect without tracking the gun owners. With a proper No-Fault system the victim would not have to even be told the name of the owner to collect compensation. All transactions by claimants or the government would be with the insurance companies.
An article, “Gun used to kill N.Y. cop came from Virginia” published 1-26-13 in the Virginian-Pilot illustrates the kind of gun leakage from legal to illegal hands that insurance could discourage. Colleen Long writes that a robbery in 2011 resulted in the death of a New York City police officer, who was shot in the head. As our system for tracing guns that turn up in crimes relies on records kept by federal licensed dealers, the 9mm semi-automatic Ruger pistol was found to be sold legally in 1999 by a dealer in Colonial Heights, Va.
The buyer of the gun in that legal transaction said that the gun was in possessions he had packed but had ended up abandoning, when he was evicted from an apartment. The story linked above is interesting with more details.
One obvious question is, do we believe the story about the loss of the gun? A Ruger 9mm is not an especially valuable gun. According to firearmspriceguide.com a used one is worth about $200 to $400 depending on condition. A person being evicted may very well abandon a lot of stuff, so it could be true. But the gun did drop into illegal hands and end up in New York. If an insurance company had responsibility for for that gun that continued after it was lost, that insurer would have a strong incentive to require the owner to keep control of the gun. The value of the gun itself was not sufficient motive.
The laws of the State of New York couldn’t stop the gun from being illegally brought from Virginia. The laws of Virginia don’t insure that owner keep track of guns in a way that prevents their loss, illegal sale or abandonment. An insurance company on the hook would, no doubt, require the owner to periodically demonstrate that the gun was still under control. There would be some financial committment on the part of the owner, sufficient to convince the insurer that the gun would stay in legal hands.
This story is special because the victim was a police officer, which provided the motivation for tracing the gun and for the paper writing about it. Thousand of other killings with illegal guns are similar in many ways. As the article says 85% of the illegal guns in New York come from out of state.
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.