Gun Control Debate Part Six: Gun Insurance

Gun owners should be mandated to have liability insurance as a prerequisite for owning firearms or ammunition

Mandatory gun insurance is an idea that has recently come into favor with many gun control advocates. They claim that insurance will reduce gun violence by encouraging responsible gun ownership. They argue that insurance would provide a means to compensate victims of accidental or negligent shootings.

On 21 March 2013 Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, of New York, filed a bill in the House of Representatives. The Firearms Risk Protection Act of 2013 ( HR 1369) would require gun owners to purchase liability coverage and to show proof of that coverage when they purchase a firearm. Maloney says that her bill would introduce a market-based solution for holding gun owners liable for the weapons they own.

“In the wake of horrific tragedies like those at Newtown, Aurora, and Tucson, we as a society and we as lawmakers must provide answers. We must respect Americans’ rights to own guns but limit gun violence and gun death. We must continue to enable guns to be used in a lawful and safe manner by responsible citizens and we must keep guns out of the hands of others. We must make sure the atrocities we have witnessed never happen again. This federal requirement would serve as a market-based solution to holding gun owners liable for the weapons they own. As with car insurance premiums, higher risk gun owners will face higher premiums. Actuarial determinations will be made by insurance companies, as those experts are in the best position to make those determinations based on sound data analysis.”

Maloney emphasizes that her bill does not establish a federal insurance program. Instead, it imposes a fine of $10,000 if during the sale of a weapon the seller does not confirm coverage or the buyer does not have coverage.

This is important because multiple states including California, Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania have considered, but not passed, mandatory gun insurance legislation similar to HB 1369. Members of the Washington DC city council have also been advocating for mandatory gun insurance laws within the District of Colombia.

As always, do your own research:

California, Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Washington DC

At first glance, the idea of mandatory gun insurance seems almost feasible. After all, many of the things in our daily lives are insured, either by choice or by fiat. However, there are several problems with the idea. The first and biggest problem is one of constitutionality. It is simply outside of the scope of any American government, local, state, or federal, to require people to pay for the right to exercise their Constitutional freedoms; any of them. Advocates of the gun insurance scheme are fond of comparing it to homeowner’s or auto insurance, things that most people are familiar with and believe to be reasonable. What they fail to acknowledge, is that neither home nor auto ownership are enumerated in the Bill of Rights. What would the public reaction be if a lawmaker proposed legislation requiring liability insurance for libel or slander lawsuits prior to the exercise of free speech? What about a tax at polling places to cover the public cost of holding elections? The comparison fails the test in several other ways. One does not have to maintain insurance to own a car or drive it on public property; only to drive it on public roads. One does not have to maintain homeowner’s insurance to own a home, but you must to get a mortgage. The proposed legislation demands insurance merely for owning an item that lawmakers deem dangerous or scary. To smack the comparison around a bit more, approximately one in seven Americans do not have car insurance. This is despite laws mandating compulsory insurance, despite harsh legal penalties for driving without insurance, despite legions of state patrolmen, police officers, and parking officials that spend the majority of their time enforcing traffic violations; one in seven Americans is moving around in public in a large, unconcealed, and dangerous, rolling contravention of existing insurance laws. The comparisons between mandatory gun insurance and other forms of insurance simply do not pass muster.

The insurance industry also has multiple problems with the idea of mandatory gun insurance. The majority of the proposed legislation has included clauses covering “willful acts.” This clause goes beyond the scope of any existing liability insurance. No insurance company will write a policy that would cover criminal or intentional misuse of a firearm. This fact alone makes laws that mandate gun insurance untenable. The industry has also noted that the insurance would be redundant, due to the fact that many accidental shootings occur in the home and would already be covered by homeowner’s insurance.

The insurance industry does not want to become a government proxy for the regulation of guns or gun owners. The industry is adept at quantifying and pricing risk. However, the level of intrusion necessary to do so for firearms is beyond what most companies, or most individuals, are willing to accept. The industry would have to send insurance adjustors into the homes of the insured in order to conduct inspections. Individual companies would have to maintain massive amounts of personal data on their customers in order to accurately assess their individual risk. Aside from the massive privacy issues associated with this amount of information, mandatory insurance would become a de facto national gun registry. In order to accurately insure firearms an insurance agency would absolutely have to collect serial numbers, make and type, and location of all firearms that it insures. In an age when the government justifies access to all of the cell phone records maintained by major telecommunications companies, what is to stop governmental access of insurance records?  We have already talked at length about the implications of a national gun registry. It is unacceptable. Aside from governmental access what provisions would be in place to prevent criminal access to these insurance records? A criminal with location information concerning firearms has a shopping list of homes to rob and information about how to do so.

Then there is the issue of money. The costs of maintaining firearms insurance would effectively remove the capability from many who need it most. The working poor, elderly, disabled, and those who most struggle with their finances, would be effectively disarmed. This is in contravention of the fact that these same groups of people are often targeted by crime due to the neighborhoods in which they live, their age, or their disability. How is it moral to deny Americans a Constitutional right due to their inability to pay for it? No legislator would consider such a thing with any other portion of the Bill of Rights.

Even if one is able to ignore all of the other issues, mandatory gun insurance would not achieve the stated goals of those proposing it, reducing gun crime. In the same way that those with criminal intent do not legally purchase firearms, they will not subsequently pay for insurance on illegal guns. The criminal personality is not the type to acquire liability insurance simply because someone passes a law saying that they must. The idea is ludicrous. Gun insurance laws would also not deter mass shooters. I only bring this up because Rep. Maloney cited the shootings in Tucson, Aurora, and Newtown, during the introduction of her bill. It is extremely difficult for law enforcement and mental health professionals to identify potential mass killers before they act. Why would it be magically easier for an insurance salesman? If someone is committed to mass murder, they will borrow, buy, or steal, whatever they need to go through with their insanity. The advocates of gun insurance claim that their only interest is in reducing gun crime. However, the people that will comply with firearms insurance statutes will be those that are law-abiding members of the community, people who have something to lose by breaking the law. In other words, people that don’t commit gun crimes. Any limitation upon freedoms must be offset by the overwhelming and demonstrated efficacy of that limitation to contribute to the public welfare. Mandatory gun insurance does not even come close to passing that test.

Requiring liability insurance for all gun owners is in effect making the law-abiding culpable for the actions of the criminal or irresponsible. Gun insurance advocates claim that the societal costs of gun crime must be borne by gun owners. Why is a responsible and legal gun owner guilty for the acts of someone who is willing to use firearms irresponsibly or in commission of a crime? To make this leap of logic, one must believe that all guns are evil and gun owners should be punished for their decision to keep and bear arms. The people proposing mandatory gun insurance really do believe this. Unable to abolish the right to firearms through legitimate legislation, they are seeking a semantic end run around the 2nd Amendment. As discussed in previous posts, gun control legislator’s public statements do not match their private desires; they are not to be trusted. They pay lip service to liberty but their goal is to make gun ownership a hardship for American citizens. They want to make the exercise of an enumerated Constitutional right, firearms ownership, as onerous and expensive as possible. The only real purpose of their legislation is to consign gun owners to the margins of society and thus control the direction of America’s future. Do not let them get away with it.


One Response to “Gun Control Debate Part Six: Gun Insurance”

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