Questions and Answers on Mandating Gun Insurance.

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This post is a good place to start if you’re new to this blog.  Scan the questions and follow the <More> link if you have an interest in a particular area

Q: What is the purpose of mandating gun insurance?

Required insurance for guns or gun owners should be designed to provide benefits for victims of gun accidents or violence. Insurers will automatically take appropriate steps to encourage gun safety as part of their loss control and underwriting activities. <More>

Q: What specifically would be the best insurance system for guns?

Each state should adopt a system of no-fault insurance with a system of delivering medical and cash benefits directly to victims. This insurance should be required to be in place for any firearm brought into or kept in the state in order for that firearm to be legal. It should provide all of the benefits available to victims of motor vehicle or workplace injuries.

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The Need for State Regulated Gun Insurance with a Federal Mandate.

The answer to the question of whether we need to mandate gun insurance at the federal or the state level is to have the mandate at the federal level and the regulation of the insurance at a state level.  The special problems that guns have of illegally traveling across state lines to do their damage and of states varying so much in their willingness to regulate guns can be solved by this structure.  The federal mandate should implement the top-down process for continuing insurer responsibility advocated by this blog.  It should require that the insurance pay benefits to victims in accordance with the gun insurance requirement in the state where the shooting occurs.

One of the special difficulties that makes guns different than almost any other risk, is that move around from state to state so easily once they are in illegal hands.  Much of the country has a relatively small problem with illegal guns and people there see no need to make access difficult.  In other parts of the country, there is a major problem with death and injuries from illegal guns.  No matter how carefully places like New York, Chicago and Washington, DC work to stop the transfer of firearms to dangerous people they cannot control the flood of weapons that come in from areas with more permissive policies. The process has been named the Iron Pipeline.

This blog believes that requiring insurance is a practical way to deal with the problem.  Insurers that remain responsible for deaths and injuries from guns after they pass into illegal hands will set up conditions to prevent that passage.  They will find ways to do this that are minimal inconveniences to legitimate gun owners.  The question is how to get a requirement for such insurance into place in this environment.  The states that sell the most guns are least likely to make such a mandate.

Insurance in this country is normally regulated by the states.  The McCarran-Ferguson Act requires that if Congress wants to regulate insurance on a federal level, it must do so  explicitly.  The two major models for gun insurance, worker’s compensation and motor vehicles, are handled by the states.  It’s likely that gun insurance will also be state based but will require a federal mandate to make certain it is in place.  The certainty should come from a “top-down” requirement that makes a insurer retain responsibility for a particular gun until and unless responsibility is picked up by another insurer, regardless of any intervening events such as loss, theft or illegal sale.

The way to handle the need of some states for strong protection from the consequences of firearm injuries and of the desire of other states to put no expenses or limitation on the acquisition of firearms is to have the federal requirement specify that the benefits paid by the mandated insurance be set by the insurance requirement of the state in which the gun causes the injury.  If an insurer does not want to be exposed to the more generous requirements of some states then that insurer will take steps in the terms of the insurance to insure that the gun does not travel to those states.  For example, if Virginia has small benefits and New York State has generous benefits, then insurers will have an incentive to make sure that guns are not illegally sold to people who will take them to New York and sell them on the streets.

Once Congress is considering such a requirement the states will have an incentive to adopt a gun insurance requirement for guns sold in their own states in order to protect their citizens from illegal guns that come from outside their borders.

Registration of guns and confirmation of insurance

In order to have a system of insurance the covers the dangers of having guns in our society, it is necessary to have a way to be sure that insurance exists that covers each victimization. The simplest system is to mandate the insurance and have the government check that it is in place. This requires that the government be aware of the identity of the gun owners in order to enforce the mandate. This means registration of guns or gun owners. The political objection to this is very great. If it is necessary to override this objection or wait for it to dissipate, then implementation of insurance for gun victims will be greatly delayed.

The Objection To Registration

Many people who are concerned about gun safety are not aware of the depth of the fear of government held by some of the gun rights defenders. There are a considerable number who have deep and broad paranoia which has been focused on this issue with severe personal mental health issues but an even larger number are simply trained to express this distrust by gun organizations, the media and those who want even more guns in circulation. Even more are aware that some form of tracking guns is essential for application of many measures to control or limit their circulation. They may fight registration of firearms as a way to prevent control of firearms.

A good bit of this concern has been embedded in current federal laws. There is law in place forbidding a federal registry of ordinary guns (not including NFA items such as machine guns). The Brady Act and the Firearm Owners Protection Act both have such provisions.

The concern about registration of guns leading to confiscation also forms a part of much of the writing that’s done about the guns in the current material circulating on the Internet. For example in an article dated February 27, 2013 titled “Debunking the ‘no one wants to take your guns’ myth” which is featured on the website The Truth About Guns and is about New York’s new law which outlaws or limits certain types of weapons the author first states:

And given New York’s history, its not unlikely that such registration is simply a precursor to a complete and total door-to-door confiscation down the road. Since they now have a convenient list of gun owners.

And then later in the article:

And the removal of a grandfather clause from the proposed legislation can only mean that full-scale confiscation is in the offing. They are, indeed, coming to take away our guns. Even the “hunting rifles.” And those who are still trying to pass off that old lie are either too ignorant of the proposed legislation or too entrenched in the party rhetoric to understand the lie they’re spouting.

In another article on that same site titled “Chicago Firearms Confiscation Begins” the first sentence is “There’s a good reason that law-abiding gun owners don’t want their names on a national gun registry – namely registration leads to confiscation ….” This is taken for granted by a salient group of writers and advocates for guns. They generally don’t make any arguments as to why registration would necessarily be a first step to taking guns away from current gun owners but assume that their readers are already convinced that that will happen. They are glad, however, to point out any situation that they can interpret as a confiscation following on some form of registration. They also assume that the government will take any steps that are possible to forward that process. For example, one of the primary objections to requiring insurance for guns is that the government could, at least theoretically, force the insurance companies to turnover their lists of customers. I have not found any objection to the National Rifle Association compiling a huge list of gun owners going well beyond their membership.

An Insurance Requirement without Additional Registration

Permits to carry guns are a form of registration in themselves, but they exist in many states. As has been pointed out on this blog, carrying a firearm in public creates an array of additional dangers to the public. Additional registration of gun owners would not be necessary, but it would be highly desirable to have insurers aware of the serial numbers of the guns covered and have guns reported if the owner loses control of the gun. That way insurance could cover cases where the gun was lost or stolen and then resulted in a shooting.

For a general insurance system, this blog is recommending that “Top Down” or chained insurer responsibility be employed to guarantee coverage. Insurance would be required of manufacturers with a provision that the insurer only relinquishes responsibility for a given gun when another insurer take it up. Making that absolute no matter how the gun changes hands will make sure than once a gun is insured it will stay insured, without requiring that anyone other than insurers track the gun. Let the gun owners buy their insurance through the NRA if they don’t trust other insurers.

Insurance-Good for Victims, Safety and Gun Owners

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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.

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Article on this blog crossposted to Daily Kos

I posted the last article “How to Seriously Approach Gun Insurance That Protects Everyone” on this blog to Daily Kos.  I’ve been getting quite a few comments.  Half or so are positive and the rest are very interesting.  The three things I need to study so far from the problems pointed out are:  It’s hard to explain the point of my approach so a quick reader working from scratch will get it, a lot of people think it won’t slow down the rate of injuries and deaths and a lot of people think insurance companies are just a rip off.  The last two problems are strongly affected by the way the system is implemented and I need to give that a lot of thought.  Good to get informative feedback.  Not much general negative feed back but some think that guns shouldn’t be touched at all.

How To Seriously Approach Gun Insurance That Protects Everyone

There are lots of posts, comments, OpEds and media articles about requiring liability insurance for guns since Newtown.  In fact, you can find a dozen (or many more) less than 24 hours old by searching “gun insurance” on your favorite search engine.  They tend to fall into three categories—advocating that we have it, denouncing it as an assault on gun rights or regretfully explaining the impossibility of making it work.  All of these categories are based on conventional liability insurance mandated in various amounts up to about $1 Million.  The purpose of the insurance advocates often seems to be to punish gun owners for the danger they give to society and is seen as a back handed way to ban guns by the gun advocates.  I think insurance, if differently structured, can be a way to deal with the deaths and injuries associated with guns without unduly burdening people who want to own and use guns.

 There are two major goals that are served by a good system of insurance here, first to provide compensation for persons injured and, secondly, to allow the costs of gun violence to fall on those who can do something about it.  In addition to the deaths, approximately 75,000 persons per year are non-fatally injured by guns according to the CDC.  Continue reading

Mandatory vs. Topdown Requirements for Gun Insurance

This is a quick post to remind readers that there are at least two ways to require gun owners to have insurance.

Mandatory Gun Insurance

The regulation or law could simply require every gun owner to have insurance in place on a gun.  This would be simple to mandate but it would require enforcement for every owner with all of the practical and political problems that brings.  There would be no automatic procedure to guarantee complience on transfer (legal or not) of the gun.  The probable result would be a large number of uninsured guns in circulation.

Topdown Gun Insurance

The requirement for insurance could have as part of its terms that an insurer remains responsible for injuries from a gun until responsibility is taken up by another insurer.  In that case, it would not be necessary to have enforcement measures taken for subsiquent owners.  Insurance coverage could remain in place for lost, stolen or diverted firearms greatly expanding the protection of potential injured persons.

 

Systems of Insurance applied to guns

There are many systems of insurance with varying breadths of coverage. The liability insurance that is talked about in the discussion at the moment would only cover a small proportion of the deaths and injuries that are occurring. The systems described below run from something so narrow that provides compensation to only a miniscule proportion those hurt to ones that could be implemented to protect almost all injured persons. Continue reading