Proposals to make gun owners carry liability insurance

by Walter Olson on February 25, 2013

“Liability insurance” may be a misnomer, since some of the proposals would require the purchase of bonds against both intentional acts commonly excluded from ordinary liability coverage, and also misadventures for which owners would not presently be held legally responsible (such as third party criminal use of a gun following a theft not occasioned by owner negligence.) [Reuters, Nelson Lund/GMU, Jessica Chasmar/Washington Times, New York Times via Fed Soc, Taranto/WSJ, Josh Blackman]

Would a mandatory insurance scheme survive judicial scrutiny if it were motivated by a desire to burden the exercise of a constitutional right? David Rifkin and Andrew Grossman, WSJ:

Several states… are considering gun-insurance mandates modeled after those for automobile insurance. There is no conceivable public-safety benefit: Insurance policies cover accidents, not intentional crimes, and criminals with illegal guns will just evade the requirement. The real purpose is to make guns less affordable for law-abiding citizens and thereby reduce private gun ownership. Identical constitutionally suspect logic explains proposals to tax the sale of bullets at excessive rates.

The courts, however, are no more likely to allow government to undermine the Second Amendment than to undermine the First. A state cannot circumvent the right to a free press by requiring that an unfriendly newspaper carry millions in libel insurance or pay a thousand-dollar tax on barrels of ink—the real motive, in either case, would be transparent and the regulation struck down. How could the result be any different for the right to keep and bear arms?

(& slightly expanded/adapted version at Cato; The Hill “Blog Briefing Room”)

P.S. The American Insurance Association is opposed to the more ambitious versions of the idea, at least: “Property and casualty insurance does not and cannot cover gun crimes.”

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{ 14 comments }

1 Hugo S. Cunningham 02.25.13 at 8:54 am

In the past I have been receptive to a gun insurance requirement, but I doubt if it would work in the way the NYT editorial board had in mind:
http://www.cyberussr.com/hcunn/guns/gun-insurance.html

2 Nicolas 02.25.13 at 11:25 am

When I recently modified my homeowner’s insurance, the insurer asked if I had a firearm in the house. I presume my affirmative answer factored into my policy rate.

3 DensityDuck 02.25.13 at 12:23 pm

If this passes, then maybe we should start requiring journalists to post special liability bonds to cover lawsuits for libel.

4 MattS 02.25.13 at 7:10 pm

DensityDuck,

Even if the gun-owners insurance doesn’t pass, doctors and lawyers have to carry malpractice insurance, why shouldn’t journalists.

5 William Kern 02.25.13 at 7:40 pm

They really need to stop referring to government-mandated insurance as “insurance”. It’s much closer to “another reason to collect money”.

6 David Eggers 02.25.13 at 9:49 pm

Interesting. How with gun insurance, if you miss a payment, you’re instantly on a government list of people who illegally own a firearm.

7 Hugo S. Cunningham 02.26.13 at 1:18 am

@Density Duck–

The proper analogy is not with professional journalists, many of whom already have insurance, but rather with private citizens. To post on this blog, or E-mail arguably political messages to anyone other than immediate family, private citizens would be required to buy libel insurance.

8 gitarcarver 02.26.13 at 1:54 am

At any one time, somewhere between 7% and 16% of people driving on roads do not have insurance. Most of these folks are poor because they simply cannot afford the costs of auto insurance.

If gun insurance goes into effect, the poor will be the most affected as they will not be able to afford insurance and therefore being faced with breaking the law or not having a means to defend themselves.

Most of those poor will be minorities which means we should be expecting a DOJ lawsuit due to “disparate impact” in the denial of Constitutional rights to minorities.

I, for one am, not holding my breath for that to happen.

9 Tom Harvey 02.26.13 at 9:58 am

It’s possible to have good insurance which provides for everyone hurt, has the insurers discourage unsafe practices including letting one’s gun be lost or stolen and still is not too much of a burden on legal gun owners. It starts with requiring manufacturers to have a no-fault insurer that only gets off the hook when another insurer takes over. Lost or stolen or diverted guns are still covered by the last insurer. That makes it unnecessary to register guns or enforce the insurance purchase below the manufacturer level.
The total medical plus lost wages cost of gun injuries in the US per year is about $4 Billion with a loss ratio similar to car insurance that would be covered by about $8 Billion in premiums. Divided by 270 million guns that gives a cost per gun per year of about $30.00 Of course, that’s an average and some would cost more and some less depending on risk and other factors.
That’s for a no-fault kind of insurance that covers anyone injured by a particular gun. The liability insurance that available now from the NRA and others covers very few cases because the shooter is usually not a legal insured owner and the legal owner who lost control of a gun is not currently held liable.

10 L. C. Burgundy 02.26.13 at 11:11 am

It starts with requiring manufacturers to have a no-fault insurer that only gets off the hook when another insurer takes over.

Are you serious? That is completely insane. Are you seriously suggesting absolute manufacturer liability for all criminal uses of their products? This is so opposed to sound public policy I’m not sure what to say.

Nice play at the blaming the victim game too. “Letting” one’s gun be stolen? Gee, I guess I’m the one at fault if I “let” an intruder murder me too. And on the bright side, look at all the possibilities for criminals to profit from their crimes!

11 wfjag 02.26.13 at 5:57 pm

@gitarcarver 02.26.13 at 1:54 am
“At any one time, somewhere between 7% and 16% of people driving on roads do not have insurance. Most of these folks are poor because they simply cannot afford the costs of auto insurance.”

In pre-Katrina New Orleans, the rate was about 50%. This resulted in substantial increases in the rates for people who had insurance (especially since being uninsured was not a bar to recovery). However, because the uninsured were overwhelmingly poor and black, any attempt to force compliance with the mandatory liability insurance law (which, itself, was inadequate) was denounced as racist, so that all discussions of solutions became sidetracked.

Further, according to the Reuters article linked above:

“Of the 31,328 deaths by firearm in 2010, 1.9 percent were accidents and 0.8 percent were of undetermined intent, according to CDC and National Vital Statistics Report numbers on the institute’s website. The rest were suicides and homicides.”

So, unless the uninsured and those injured while engaged in the perpetration of a crime (i.e., making a reasonable believe in self defense, defense of property and defense of another absolute defenses) are barred from recovery, it can be expected that the rates for citizens who lawfully own firearms will be far higher than any rate fixed based on liability due to the owner’s negligence. Like the 18th Amendment, it would turn many law abiding people into scofflaws, and so further erode the little remaining respect that exists for legislatures and obeying the law.

For many policy and social reasons, the proposal is a terrible idea. However, I see no evidence that gun control advocates are interested in inconvenient facts or considerations that run counter to their ideology. Accordingly, I see no reason to believe that this will be considered based on its merits or demerits, but, like most gun control ideas, will become another of the litmus tests, and so, another wedge issue.

12 boblipton 02.26.13 at 6:35 pm

Because the answer when some nut shoots twenty children and a similar number of adults is cash.

Bob

13 mf 02.26.13 at 8:10 pm

@Nicolas:

When I recently modified my homeowner’s insurance, the insurer asked if I had a firearm in the house. I presume my affirmative answer factored into my policy rate.

I’m really curious in which way it would affect it. Would the insurer believe you’re more likely to be safe by having a firearm (lower rate), or would they think you’re more likely to be liable for some lawsuit due to misuse or attractive nuisance (thieves want to steal guns) or anything else (higher rate)?

14 wfjag 02.26.13 at 9:37 pm

@mf:
“I’m really curious in which way it would affect it. ”

Probably it affected his rates the same way my disclosure that I own some large dogs affected my rates — and by big dogs, I mean the kind that bark loudly and should frighten away anyone coming onto our property when my spouse or I are not there to lock them up (which covers perps, since people who have a reason to be on our property have a phone number or email address to arrange a meeting, and packages can be left by the door). That the dogs are natural alarms and frighten away perps better than any man-made alarm wasn’t a consideration. That they have never actually bitten anyone wasn’t a consideration. That we live in a state that has a “one bite rule” for tort liability for animal’s owners wasn’t a consideration. That they are large dogs with big teeth — that was a consideration.

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