Public Policy of Personal Responsibility: Require Mandatory Liability Insurance for Firearms


Posted by AzBlueMeanie:

Arizona requires that every motor vehicle operated on the state's roadways be covered by one of
the statutory forms of financial responsibility, more commonly called
liability insurance. There are minimum coverage requirements for bodily injury and property damage. Most motorists also purchase uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage for additional insurance coverage.

Failure to maintain proper liability insurance could lead to the suspension of
your vehicle registration and/or driver license. To reinstate these
privileges, fees and future proof of financial responsibility must be
filed with MVD.

The public policy reason behind mandatory auto liability insurance is "personal responsibility."

Legal experts and policy makers have talked about applying this public policy to firearms ownership for years. Illinois State Rep. Kenneth Dunkin proposed amending his state's Firearm Owners Identification Card Act to require gun owners to buy $1,000,000 in liability coverage in 2009. The bill failed after a right-wing campaign from Glenn Beck at FAUX News and the NRA.

But the call for personal responsiblity in firearms ownership through mandatory liability insurance is back in the news today. Robert Cyran and Reynolds Holding in an op-ed at Reuters write Congress should push for mandatory gun insurance:

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.

* * *

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. [See NRA Endorsed Property & Casualty Insurance Program.]

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.

* * *

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.

Similarly, John Wasik writing at Forbes, Newtown's New Reality: Using Liability Insurance to Reduce Gun Deaths:

[J]ust mention “gun control,” and the very phrase shuts down
conversation and invokes the vague rights and curse of the second
amendment. Challenges to the constitution would never make it through
the Roberts court, anyway.

What we can do is to look at gun sales through the lens of social economics.

Market-based risk pricing is the partial answer. Let’s agree
that guns as weapons are inherently dangerous to society and owners
should bear the risk and true social costs. Translation: Require both
owners and sellers to purchase liability insurance that is universally
underwritten by actuaries according to relative risk.

Given that gun violence, which kills more than 30,000 Americans
annually, is harmful not only to our well being, but our economy, we
should use economic disincentives to regulate its use.

In relative terms, gun deaths are out of control relative to other kinds
of fatal injuries. According to the Centers of Disease Control,
absolute numbers don’t tell the whole story. Gun-related fatalities are
nearly as high as traffic deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control, at around 10 per 100,000 in population.

* * *

When you buy a car, your insurer underwrites the risk according to
your age, driving/arrest/ticket record, type of car, amount of use and
other factors. A teenage driver behind the wheel of a Porsche is going
to pay a lot more than a 50-year-old house wife. A driver with DUI
convictions may not get insurance at all. Like vehicles, you should be required
to have a policy before you even applied for a gun permit.  Every
seller would have to follow this rule before making a transaction.

This is where social economics goes beyond theory. Those most at risk
to commit a gun crime would be known to the actuaries doing the
research for insurers. They would be underwritten according to age,
mental health, place of residence, credit/bankruptcy record and marital
status. Keep in mind that insurance companies have mountains of data and
know how to use it to price policies, or in industry parlance, to
reduce the risk/loss ratio.

Who pays the least for gun insurance would be least likely to commit a crime with it. An 80-year-old married woman in Fort Lauderdale
would get a great rate. A 20-year-old in inner-city Chicago wouldn’t be
able to afford it. A 32-year-old man with a record of drunk driving and
domestic violence would have a similar problem.

What about “straw purchasing” where someone buys a gun or gives it to
someone else? The original purchaser not only would be required to have
insurance, but would be liable for any violence committed with the
weapons they purchased. The insurance companies could keep these
records, which they are really good at doing. How do I know this might

Insurers have been doing this for centuries in underwriting health,
auto, home and life insurance. Instead of charging the highest premiums
for overweight smokers, alcoholics with bad driving records and
dangerous hobbies, the most expensive policies will be priced for those
who are younger with histories of mental illness, divorce, criminal
records or severe financial difficulties.

In lieu of widespread bans and confiscation, most people in an industrialized society generally accept the need for insurance.

* * *

[I]t’s an economic way to address a horrendous problem. The point is,
when you apply for insurance, you would give the insurer the right to
search your health and financial records and actuaries would be able to
develop risk factors and apply premium pricing. As I wrote in a Reuters blog last year, gun insurance could save a lot of lives, if applied universally:

“Risk-based pricing is fueled by a whole body of research that
identifies who might be a victim in a gun crime or accident…Far too many
kids are at risk: Some 90,000 children were killed by gunfire between
1979 and 2001, according to the Children’s Defense Fund. That’s almost
twice the number of soldiers killed in the Viet Nam war. In fact, American children are more at risk from firearms than any other industrialized country.

If you think that the mandatory insurance idea is onerous, think
again. You can’t finance a home mortgage without homeowner’s and title
insurance. Want to buy a car? Most states require liability insurance.
Forget about employing anyone in most states without worker’s
compensation or unemployment coverage. As it stands now, only 22 cities
and two counties in California require gun dealers to buy liability
insurance, according to Law Center Against Gun Violence.

It’s not known if any jurisdiction requires buyers to purchase
liability coverage, although a state legislator in Illinois proposed
such a law in 2009 (it was defeated). Note: the NRA itself currently
endorses “excess liability” insurance for gun owners.”

* * *

Of course, I’m not sure how to stem the underground trade of guns
other than enforcing outright bans on unregistered weapons. Nor will my
concept keep guns away from criminals; insane people may still find a
way to get around buying insurance and sidestepping the underwriting.
But it will raise the bar for the liability threshold. It will cost you
dearly — or prohibit you from getting insurance and a gun — if an insurer deems you uninsurable.

Insurance will more effectively price the risk and costs of social
harm. I know that this falls short of getting rid of the most dangerous
weapons, but we have to start somewhere. We just can’t afford to see any
more Auroras, Columbines, Tucsons and Newtowns.

There is also a proposal to apply liability without fault. Is Gun Liability Insurance the Next Big Thing?:

for, Rutgers University law professor Bernard W. Bell
proposed applying the legal concept of 'liability without fault' to
owners of firearms.

"For some dangerous instruments, society imposes liability without
fault — that is, the person who keeps or uses the item is liable for
injuries to others even if he or she is as careful as can be," says
Bell. "For example, those who own and use explosives in this country are
generally liable for all the injuries they cause, regardless of their
level of care. Such an approach recognizes that, while the activity may
be lawful and to some extent necessary, those who engage in the activity
should pay for the carnage the activity almost inevitably produces."

In such a context, a gun owner would be liable even if a thief stole her gun and shot someone.

"Not only does this mean that those who are injured are more likely
to receive some recompense for their injury. It also serves as an
incentive to conduct the activity as safely as possible and only when
necessary," says Bell.

In other words, a liability-without-fault law envisioned by Ball would put gun owners on notice: If you must own a gun, be prepared to 'own' everything that comes with it.

Now what Tea-Publican could possibly object to "personal responsiblity" and "market based solutions," in particular private insurance?  This is their rhetoric. Liability insurance reduces externalizing the costs of gun violence — a major health care epidemic — to society as a whole. It is time to apply the public policy of personal responsibility to firearms ownership.

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AZ BlueMeanie
The Blue Meanie is an Arizona citizen who wishes, for professional reasons, to remain anonymous when blogging about politics. Armed with a deep knowledge of the law, politics and public policy, as well as pen filled with all the colors stolen from Pepperland, the Blue Meanie’s mission is to pursue and prosecute the hypocrites, liars, and fools of politics and the media – which, in practical terms, is nearly all of them. Don’t even try to unmask him or he’ll seal you in a music-proof bubble and rendition you to Pepperland for a good face-stomping. Read blog posts by the infamous and prolific AZ Blue Meanie here.


  1. I am really intrigued by this idea. I can see no way forward with gun bans in our current environment, but I am unwilling to say that there is nothing that can be done.

    Are there any organizations who are working on this? I would like to become more active.

  2. I totally agree. There should be a sliding scale for gun owners. Rates go up with the number of guns and the type. This would discourage multiple guns. Also, I think the government should have a buy-back and destroy program to reduce the number of guns in circulation. I have been promoting this idea on social media. According to the CDC, annually in the US, gun injuries/injury deaths and vehicleinjuries/injury deaths are almost the same, about 30-34,000. In AZ, gun rates surpass vehicle rates.