When a proposal for requiring insurance for guns is put into a blog discussion, many of the strong pro-gun advocates reacting to the post base their objection on rights as they assume they have them from the second amendment to the US Constitution. These assumptions can be very broad. And I see statements such as “what other rights do you have to pay for?” and “paying for gun insurance is like a Poll Tax.”
Well, I see us paying taxes on the means necessary to exercise a right all the time. Look at your phone bill, it’s full of taxes on a means to communicate. You have a right to travel, but pay taxes on cars and on air and rail tickets.
Poll taxes are really obnoxious, especially the way they were historically used, but they were not found to be unconstitutional until a specific amendment (The 24th Amendment to the US Constitution) was adopted. There is no similar amendment for gun rights. It’s interesting that rather heavy taxes for automatic weapons have never been found to be unconstitutional.
District of Columbia v. Heller is a very narrow decision in itself. It only overturns an extremely restrictive law that totally prohibits gun ownership. Later the court extended it to state laws in another case, McDonald v. Chicago. Since then lots of restrictions on gun use and ownership have been upheld by state courts. Whether the Supreme Court will strike a broader range of gun restrictions in the future is unknown. While lots has been written by legal scholars about the subject, the future path of this law will probably be determined by political considerations. Heller was supported by 5 justices with a strong dissent by 4 justices. It’s possible that it could be rolled back to the old view that any right to bear arms did not apply to individuals or it’s possible that it could be broadened.
As far as insurance is concerned, the system supported by this blog only requires regulations applied to the manufacturer of guns. Any requirement that the insurance be transferred to the subsequent owner, as would be needed to let the manufacturer’s insurer relinquish responsibility, would be a private contract.
Many people who can see the need to protect persons injured by guns and can see the parallels for responsibility to motor vehicles have a problem with involving insurance companies. Writing recently in a diary about possible system for requiring insurance on guns, one of the most common concerns was a distrust or even hatred of insurers. This is understandable because insurance companies often deny claims or access to insurance; and denial is likely to be harmful and very upsetting to the person denied. In so many areas, insurance coverage is required in one way or another and is a barrier to people getting on with their lives. Nevertheless, insurance is necessary and it matters greatly how it is implemented.
So the question is how would the insurance experience for gun owners work out?
The system I am envisioning in my writing requires insurance to be purchased by manufacturers or importers in such a way that, to relieve an insurer of responsibility, each successive owner must take over or provide new insurance. If the gun is lost, stolen or diverted the responsibility stays with the current insurer. This is critical because the primary danger lawful owners make to the public is they may lose control of a gun. An important advantage of this system is that the government only has to regulate or even know about manufacturers, importers and insurers. There is no need to register privately owned guns for this to work.
The legislation needed to mandate insurance would prescribe the types of incidents that would be covered and the requirements for payment. It is very important that it be a no-fault system for two reasons, the situation in many shootings is so unclear that, even if it’s obvious there must be some kind of fault, proving it can be very difficult and protecting the privacy of gun owners is very important. This gives insurers much less room is denying claims than in other kinds of insurance. No-fault insurance for automobiles works well in many states, but the comparison of cars to guns is to the Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage that’s part of many state systems as it applies to pedestrians, who often don’t have their own insurance. For examples, see Florida and New York.
For the purchasers of gun insurance, it’s likely that there would be substantial competition about rates. Gun selling businesses would work hard to make good and economical carriers available to their customers. Because the rates would probably vary significantly for customers in different situations, with different styles of storage and use and for different types of firearms, the insurers would be competing on convenience and privacy as well as price.
The big costs for automobile liability insurance claims are injuries and property damage rather than fatalities. Because guns are involved in only about 2.5% as many injuries as motor vehicles, the average cost would be low. Very generous benefits would have an average annual cost to insurers of less than $40 per gun. Limits similar to a less generous plan such as Florida’s PIP would be less than one quarter of that. These are averages; and particular situations would have higher or lower costs. In particular, guns that have been in the possession of owners for substantial periods have a much smaller chance of turning up in shootings later.
Getting an approximate estimate of the cost of Gun Insurance that would protect everyone is important even though the parameters of an insurance system have not been developed. In many ways, the wide experience with automobile insurance will serve as a model for the system to come. There are available sources for the numbers needed to make an estimate if one assumes a certain level of coverage and benefits.
The Insurance Information Institute publishes overall numbers for automobile insurance. The particular items that interest us are for private passenger automobile insurance (excludes commercial):
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.
Ben Achtenberg has an article in the Caring for Survivors of Torture blog titled “We Already Have a Way to Cut Gun Deaths.” It makes the case for treating gun ownership with the same standards of responsibility as cars in detail and with strength. He points out our willingness to accept driving tests, licensing, training and mandatory insurance for automobiles. He shows that these are support the use and ownership of cars and that the “the insurance industry has a vested interest in developing regulations and price points that will not unduly discourage car ownership and use.” He then rhetorically asks if there any chance of that happening and answers “In the United States of today, not a snowball’s chance in hell.”
He then goes on to talk about how an insurance system would work on a conventional liability model. He discusses licensing, regulation, market price differences based on risks and insurance prices being affected by safe practices and good records. He supports insurance as a part of universal regulation.
He does not discuss the other models of insurance other than to say that one reader suggested that a surety bond for paying injured parties could replace or supplement insurance. This is a well thought out article and gives a valuable list of links for Related Reading.