Insuring 300,000,000 Existing Guns

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If gun owners are mandated to have insurance, new guns can be monitored.  But what about the 300,000,000 guns currently held by individuals, including illegal guns?  Clearly, no system of insurance, gun regulation, or police activity can deal completely with problems arising from such massive numbers.   The system of chaining insurance responsibility “Top Down” works to retain guns in the system one there, and stolen or otherwise illegally acquired guns will retain the insurer of the last legal owner.  But the outstanding guns in the hands of criminals and a good proportion of those owned by otherwise law abiding owners will not be enrolled in insurance without good reason.

Although it might be assumed that political considerations will mean guns currently owned will be grandfathered in, that does not have to be the case.   Legislators could establish a policy whereby all guns must be insured.   When state or national laws are adopted to require insurance for guns sold by manufacturers or passing through the hands of legal gun dealers, the laws can require that persons owning guns acquire insurance.

In spite of declarations in the media from some gun proponents that they will not comply with various proposed measures regulating firearms, most gun owners are legal and responsible citizens and will comply with a requirement after a reasonable period of time.  They will be able to purchase insurance and have their gun’s serial number added to the database without revealing their names to anyone other than their insurer.  Much of the insurance now sold to gun owners is now provided to them in association with the NRA, and there is no reason that this cannot continue for those who have concerns about insurers protecting their privacy.  Of course, any insurer, even the NRA, would have to comply with financial regulation as an insurer and provide the mandated insurance compensations for victims.

The database suggested as a part of the “Top Down” system would provide a quick way for a law enforcement officer to check if a particular gun is insured.  The database is designed to provide a quick way to find the insurer responsible for a particular gun, but contains no information about the gun’s location or owner.  An officer finding the gun as part of an action for some investigation or arrest can check if the gun is properly covered.  Guns are routinely and legally declared when they are shipped in luggage on airlines and may have to be declared when brought into controlled places depending on local laws.  Insurance can be checked in these situations as well.

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Cars v. Guns about Mandatory Insurance

Many people, when asked about the possibility of requiring insurance that would protect victims of gun violence, compare guns to automobiles; and, knowing that we require drivers to have insurance, think that it’s a reasonable thing to do with guns.  It is a reasonable thing; but there are both similarities and differences.

Gun proponents, who often view compulsory insurance as simply an interference with rights they consider to be absolute, tend to offer a number of relatively unimportant differences by asserting things such as  “car insurance isn’t required on private property or unless the car is being driven.”  This isn’t always true; but, more importantly, it has little to do with how to handle a reasonable requirement for gun insurance.

The big difference is the way that we treat responsibility about the two classes of possessions and the politics of that responsibility.  People are used to car owners being responsible for their cars and expressing that responsibility through liability and insurance.  Gun proponents have worked to deflect responsibility away from owners and suppliers of guns and onto gun users; and then from gun users onto victims who can be perceived as responsible for their own injuries when the gun user thinks, rightly or wrongly, that shooting is justified.

The purpose of this post is to point out the similarities and differences that have substantial consequences in the design of appropriate insurance.

Similarities between Cars and Guns

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Comments on a Blog Post about Mandating Gun Insurance

It’s hard to get thoughtful responses to the ideas published on this blog.  Most comments are from people who simply assert their, usually negative, conclusions.  When I get a response such as The Truth About Maryland’s recent post “Mandatory gun insurance: an interesting smart idea that won’t really work. A primer, from a finance and insurance geek,” I welcome the chance to look for new information or approaches to the problem of dealing with gun deaths and injuries.  Insurance is a tool and gun injuries are a problem that to be addressed by that tool require that it be specifically adapted to the problem.  For example, the parallels between automobiles and guns are striking because both are widely used instrumentalities that result in a substantial amount of death and injury; but this blog outlines differences in the best implementations of insurance.

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Precursors to Gun Insurance

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.

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Is Self-Defense Insurance Legal in California?

The National Rifle Association (NRA) and several other companies or organizations sell or sponsor the sale of insurance to defend and indemnify gun owners from liability in self defense situations.  They do this on a nationwide basis and promise protection in a wide range of situations where the purpose of the gun use is to defend ones person or property.  The point of this insurance is to have no restriction against covering self-defense as an intentional or willful act.  The question raised in this post is: How can this be possible under California’s Insurance Code?

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How Would Insurers Stop Straw Purchases?

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.

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The Question of Pricing Mandatory Gun Insurance

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

Mandatory Insurance for Armed Professions is Normal

We see armed people working around us on a daily basis.  Some of these private professionals are highly visible such as guards for banks and armored car services and some are less obvious to the eye such as private investigators or detectives.  In almost all states there are requirements for them to have licenses and in most states they must have insurance or bonds that function as insurance.  But there is tremendous variation in the requirements and in the definitions and terminology of the various roles.

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New Bill SB2646 for Gun Insurance in Illinois Covers Intentional

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.

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