Proposals to require gun owners to buy liability insurance

by Walter Olson on November 19, 2013

They appear to be going nowhere in state legislatures:

A mandate for gun buyers could be more challenging than for drivers, given insurers’ aversion to the risk from assaults. That compares with U.S. auto insurance, where companies spend more than $5 billion a year to win customers in a $178 billion market.

“That’s why things like mandatory auto insurance kind of work, because you’ve already got a highly functional market and it’s a matter of herding the last stragglers into it,” Walter Olson, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, a think tank dedicated to limited government, said in an interview. “But when there is no functional insurance market at all for some kind of risk, it’s a different question.”

It doesn’t help that the ObamaCare episode has raised public resistance to the idea of mandatory insurance. Related: even two authors somewhat favorably disposed toward the idea, and who believe it might be enacted in some forms without overstepping the Constitution, predict its effect in reducing injury by deterring negligent gun handling would “probably not be very great.” [Stephen Gilles and Nelson Lund, Regulation magazine (Cato, PDF)]

{ 7 comments }

1 Hugo S. Cunningham 11.19.13 at 4:45 pm

In 1999, I proposed a “workmen’s comp” approach to mandatory gun-owner’s insurance.
http://cyberussr.com/hcunn/guns/gun-insurance.html
The key feature is a requirement that the government pay *into* the premium fund for each crime *prevented* by a policy-holder’s gun. Since legal gun-owners stop more crimes than they cause, they likely would never have to pay a premium.

2 jdgalt 11.19.13 at 8:13 pm

We might very well see fewer traffic accidents if we were to outlaw liability insurance for drivers and require that they post bond instead. The bond would cost less than insurance and would still ensure that victims get paid — but the at-fault driver would then have to pay the full amount out of his own pocket if he wants to keep driving. That’s fairer as well as cheaper than the present system, because unlike insurance, it would not relieve drivers of their natural, well-deserved disincentive to incur liability.

It seems to me that the same logic applies to gun owners. (I’m not convinced that requiring either insurance or a bond from them would be right or constitutional, since it would burden a constitutional right. But if we must, then let’s require a bond rather than insurance.)

3 Jamie R 11.20.13 at 7:41 am

I’ve never understood the rationale behind these proposals. If we rule out letting gun buyers buy insurance for their intentional suicides and batteries, there’s virtually no gun incidents left. Gun owners liability insurance would be so cheap that it would have, at most, a vanishingly small marginal impact on gun ownership and handling.

4 Ron Miller 11.20.13 at 5:57 pm

Well, drivers are going to be safe for another reason: their own safety. I don’t think people are safe on the roads worried about liability 1/10th as much as they are about protecting themselves from injury.

I think such a law would be constitutional. But all I think it would do is make people who are concerned about guns – like me – feel better without actually accomplishing anything.

As for Jamie’s point, the kids killed every year in accidental gun deaths http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/05/11/children-protection-gun-violence/2079177/ and the guy Dick Cheney shot in the face disagree with you that there would be virtually no gun incidents left after we pull out the intentional acts.

5 Tex Judge 11.20.13 at 7:18 pm

The comparison of requiring gunowners to buy liability insurance to that requiring drivers to carry insurance is a bad one because operating a motor vehicle is not a constitutional right and thus can be subject to such a financial burden. The right to possess a firearm is a constitutional right and thus cannot be burdened in a similar manner. I am sure that the New York Times, for example, would scream bloody murder if it were forced to buy insurance against the risk of defamation committed by its reporters as an infringement of its First Amendment rights (I would agree).

6 Mike 11.21.13 at 10:03 am

The proposal indicates a certain agility on the part of gun control proponents: if they cannot ban guns outright, just make it too expensive to own one.
Clearly, the intent IS to burden a Constitutional right.

7 Ron Miller 11.21.13 at 5:06 pm

Mike, you can burden constitutional rights if there is a “compelling interest” to do so. Is there a compelling interest here? Your answer to that question would hinge on your world view of when guns are a part of the solution or a part of the problem.

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