Congress should push for mandatory gun insurance

December 17, 2012

By Robert Cyran and Reynolds Holding

The authors are Reuters Breakingviews columnists. The opinions expressed are their own.

Congress should push for mandatory gun insurance. Firearm ownership is a U.S. constitutional right. But as last week’s massacre again demonstrated, it comes at a cost. Requiring liability coverage could be one way to keep the most dangerous weapons from unstable hands without infringing the law.

The biggest legal obstacle to gun regulation is the U.S. Constitution’s Second Amendment. The right to bear arms has generally trumped strict limits on ownership, especially since the Supreme Court’s 2008 decision extended the right to individuals. Imposing a hefty insurance policy could make owning a firearm prohibitively expensive for some and create constitutional problems.

But tying the price of coverage to the cost of gun incidents could work. And there’s a strong argument that damage caused by firearms gives the government a “compelling interest” to require insurance, the test for infringing a constitutional right. There’s already a precedent: the National Rifle Association offers liability insurance to members.

Moreover, the market should be efficient at weighing the risks. Insurers specialize in figuring out the odds of something going wrong and charging the appropriate amount. Car insurance premiums are based on both the driver and the vehicle. A 19-year-old man with a Porsche and a history of moving violations pays far more than a 40-year-old minivan driver with a clean record.

So a shotgun owner who has hunted for years without incident could be charged far less than a first-time owner purchasing a semi-automatic. In other words, people would be financially discouraged from purchasing the most risky firearms and encouraged to attend gun safety classes and use trigger locks. And the insurance could provide some restitution for those hurt by guns.

There are drawbacks, of course. Insurance would probably only cover the owner, not the gun, so could be useless in incidents where the gun has been stolen. And those looking to get guns off the streets fast would be disappointed: it would take some time for the discouraging effects of high insurance premiums to trickle down.

Tying insurance to ammunition sales as well could make such a policy more effective more quickly. Either way, liability coverage could be one way to bring the two sides of the gun control debate together.

Comments

Charging insurance premiums for a right doesn’t sound like it will pass muster. Basically it would be pricing people out of of their right to gun ownership…Kind of like taxing ammo to the point that few could afford to buy it, it renders firearms useless at some point and is the same as simply taking the right away, which, the government is forbidden to do. We have the Constitution and the Bill of Rights for a reason, trying to circumvent the very cornerstones of our country is not the answer.

Posted by lawgone | Report as abusive
 

Why don’t we require ‘violence insurance’ on products from those that make violent entertainment focused on an audience age 16 -30? Some of those programs are written to twist the boundaries of good vis evil….some make it ok to root for the killer…some glorify evil. Movies, music, games , tv programs ,etc. ……many of these products reward violence and erase the lines of good and evil.
There are many industries that have profited from the destruction of the moral fiber of our teenagers and young adults as they grow through those difficult years. They have a part to play in this as well…maybe even a bigger part then the gun industry.
The idea in this article is to punish everyone that owns a gun . Does that make sense? Should we punish everyone that buys entertainment because the entertainment makes money selling violence to our kids?
Why don’t we stop those that glorify violence and guns by holding them accountable. And then teach people how to use firearms the right way….trigger locks, gun safety , age requirements, reasonable limits for beginners, additional responsibility for those that earn it, etc.
Stopping guns will not stop the problem…it will only continue if we do not address the other issues.

Posted by Gen | Report as abusive
 

Hugh LaFollette, Cole Professor of Ethics at USF St. Petersburg, suggested this very thing 12 years ago this penetrating article in the journal Ethics:

http://www.hughlafollette.com/papers/gun .control.pdf

He also wrote a follow-up article, partly in response to criticism of the original piece:

http://www.hughlafollette.com/papers/Con trolling.Guns.htm

It’s hard to be dispassionate on the subject of gun control, but Dr. LaFollette got as close as anyone.

Posted by Scherb | Report as abusive
 

I totally agree with guns requiring liability insurance, even in case of a stolen weapon, the owner / insurance should liable if it was due to his negligence.

For all you gun nuts flashing the 2nd amendment. Realize that the 2nd amendment was not written by God, it was written by men & at a time when the world was a much different place with very different weapons.

You want to own a weapon, you should also own the responsibility & liability.

Posted by svashist | Report as abusive
 

Post Your Comment

We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/