We are going to have both. Millions of gun owners will keep their firearms, and the level of death and injuries is unbearable. The tension will continue until a means to deal with these facts is forged, and you can bet insurance will be a part of it. Already, bills have been introduced at the state and federal level. But, new forms of insurance are required; ones that will aid victims and help protect the public.
Those calling for gun insurance often point to the similarity with car insurance. There are many parallels but critical differences as well. Gun victims will not have their own insurance (when negligence cannot be proven); and shooters can be uninsured, illegal or unknown.
Providing compensation for victims is important. It’s needed for medical care of the injured, replacement of lost wages, burial and other purposes. Unfortunately, victims are rarely helped by insurance like the NRA’s current excess liability insurance, which applies to gun users who are proven to be negligent. This isn’t surprising because it exists to protect gun owners, not victims.
Required Gun Insurance
Providing for public safety is important. Insurance companies help reduce hazards from people’s actions. It works, not perfectly, but quite well for cars, workplace injuries and public dangers of business activities. Required gun insurance will provide similar protection and safety. Insurers will demand safe practices and secure storage of guns as a condition of giving favorable rates. They will proportion premiums to the level of risk for each situation. They will oversee the greatest dangers in the most detail.
Proposed bills in the House of Representatives and state legislatures would require liability insurance with high limits for guns. This would be painful to gun owners without providing much relief for shooting victims, because ordinary liability insurance doesn’t cover intentional acts or what happens after a gun falls into the hands of a “bad guy.”
Insurance trade spokespersons, who naturally don’t want to offend gun owners or appear to be profiteering, have been saying that gun insurance is basically impossible. This simply isn’t true. For centuries, as new risk situations have risen, insurers have adapted terms and coverage to handle the risks. It’s now time to develop the right kind of insurance for guns.
To cover the majority of cases, gun insurance needs to be no-fault in nature and be applicable to situations where shootings often happen. Many shootings are not done by the legal owner of the gun involved, which may have been found by a young child, borrowed or stolen. Worker’s compensation insurance has many lessons. In my opinion, the best model is personal injury protection, as it applies in New York to pedestrians who don’t have their own insurance and are hit by cars. Studies by insurance providers and regulators are needed.
Objections to Gun Insurance
The most common objection to gun insurance is that no insurance covers intentional or criminal acts. Yes, these are excluded from most liability insurance. However, they are covered by many kinds of insurance that are intended or mandated to protect third-parties. For example, businesses are covered for acts of employees by means of a “separation of interests” clause. Fire insurance with an “open mortgage clause” pays a lender when owners commit arson. Motor vehicle insurance applies to “road rage” incidents in Massachusetts and some other states. Although these policies don’t pay a policyholder who does a misdeed, they pay out fairly to other innocent parties.
Another objection is based on constitutionality. History may be instructive here. When cars were new to society, there were many lawsuits against regulating them and requiring insurance on the basis that it is a burden on the well-established constitutional right to travel. Yet by the 1950s, these cases had died out and are all but forgotten. Insurance as a backdoor way to ban guns may be unconstitutional, but insurance to protect victims and the public is not.
One last thing: having insurance is a sign of responsibility. It’s a major step toward changing the culture of gun ownership from one of anything goes to one of care and safety.