The most important characteristic of the insurance needed for owning or carrying firearms is the basic structure of who is protected and paid by the insurance. Voluntary insurance is always designed to protect the insurance buyer or owner first and pays third party victims only when necessary to protect the policy holder. Required or mandatory insurance is intended to protect the public and persons other than the policy holder, and should promptly pay insured persons.
In a new article “Living on the Edge (of Austrailian Cities: Is Gun Amnesty Effective?” by Isabella Kwai, Adam Baidawi and Tacey Rychter, the New York Times questioned the usefulness of a new three month program to recover illegal guns in that country.
A 2002 buyback program in Australia is widely acknowledged to have removed most of the semi-automatic guns from private stocks, officially counting 659,940 newly prohibited weapons. The Times article recognizes this program, pointing out that “the current rate of homicides involving guns in the United States is 23 times higher than it is in Australia” and that “Australia has not had a mass shooting since Port Arthur.” Port Arthur was a very serious mass shooting that initiated the movement to adopt Australia prohibitions and the buyback program. The buyback was a large program for a country of Australia’s size; and this amnesty will, no doubt, yield a much smaller reduction in the stock of illegal firearms. But amnesty and other uncompensated programs are inexpensive and can be repeated over time. The article linked above counts 219,721 additional firearms in uncompensated programs since the buyback. This is a substantial reduction.
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.
Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY-12) has introduced a bill, HR-2546, to require insurance for firearm transfers again in the congress. The bill has been co-sponsored by representatives: Blumenauer (OR-3), Clark (MA-5), Grijalva (AZ-3), Lynch (MA-8), McGovern (MA-2), Rangel (NY-13), and Tsongas (MA-3). It is a requirement for liability insurance for sales of firearms. As introduced it does not specify the amount of insurance required or the parties to be protected by the insurance.
This blog has pointed out many times the limitations of the liability insurance model for protecting victims of gun violence; but many people easily see the parallels between the car insurance requirement and the need for gun insurance. Liability insurance, as implemented in various states for the protection of people injured by cars, is often modified by the provisions of a mandate to be in a form which, while called liability insurance, is really based on some other insurance system. These systems are typically called no-fault insurance or personal injury protection as well as being nominally called liability insurance. They pay benefits directly to victims.
One of the good models for gun insurance is found in the requirement for a personal injury protection endorsement to car insurance in Rep. Maloney’s own state, New York. It is codified in New York Regulation 68. This provides for persons not covered by their own insurance (such as most pedestrians) a requirement for no-fault benefits which are paid directly to first parties (injured persons).
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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.