Mandatory Gun Insurance?

The free-market approach to gun control over at Crooks and Liars seems pretty clever: A Modest Proposal: What If We Required Mandatory Gun Insurance?

Combine this with strict liability for misuse of a weapon — liability which resides with the manufacturer and/or distributor if they fail to make sure that the purchaser is insured, on the insurance company if they allow a policy to lapse without evidence that someone else has provided the insurance or the gun has been sold or destroyed, and on the purchaser if the next in chain of title is not insured, and pretty soon we might be getting somewhere.

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36 Responses to Mandatory Gun Insurance?

  1. Max Fiction says:

    I’m not convinced it will really solve the problem of guns. There are too many guns in circulation already, both legal and illegal. I’m more inclined to look at restricting and regulating the production of bullets, and making them very, very hard to obtain. The gun nuts will try to, ha ha, squirrel them. But, being gun nuts, they won’t be able to resist the lure of their surrogate for human interaction and they’ll eventually waste the available supply in the firing range and back yard.

    However, I do think gun owners should have a financial responsibility for any harm caused by their fetish. So, indeed, there should be mandatory insurance for guns just as their is for autos. If they can’t afford it, well, sorry, Bubba. Guess you’re jus’ a-gonna have ta bootstrap yourself and work your way up to a better job like a real ‘murican.

  2. Max Fiction says:

    In the above, “their” in “just as their is…” should be “there.” Sigh.

  3. jpe says:

    it’d be about as constitutional as requiring protestors to reimburse a city in which they protest for the cost of the police deployed, which is to say not constitutional at all.

  4. michael-
    1. “free-market approach to gun control”; Exactly how is the suggestion a “free-market approach?”
    2. “strict liability for misuse of a weapon — liability which resides with the manufacturer and/or distributor”; Already been suggested by hoplophobics and rejected by both courts and legislatures.
    3. How about holding UM Law (or you personally) strictly liable every time one if its graduates is found to have committed malpractice? Makes about as much sense and contains about as much justice.

    Max Fiction-
    “I’m more inclined to look at restricting and regulating the production of bullets, and making them very, very hard to obtain.”
    There is no logic, whatsoever, that supports the notion that higher ammunition prices will reduce firearm crime. To the contrary, at the moment, ammunition prices are at an all time high.

    Just as we are told the vast majority of Muslims are non-violent, the same is true for the vast majority of American gun owners. Yet, progressive logic rushes to warn everyone not to condemn Islam every time a practitioner of that faith commits a mass murder (weekly if you follow world news), and never once a call to ban or constrain the spread of the Koran. No proposal to hold publishers of the Koran and mosques strictly liable for any jihadist terror attacks.

    Yet the same progressive “logic” carries on as if Heller and the Constitution doesn’t exist, and immediately attacks the American “gun nut” community and gun ownership when an unfortunate incident occurs. So much effort to understand and appreciate Islam, so much hatred and scorn for roughly 50% of America who choose to own firearms, of which 99.999999% never result in harm to anyone.

  5. >99.999999% never result in harm to anyone

    When you say “harm” do you mean physical harm? Or do you include “I was held up at gunpoint but handed over my money in preference to being shot” in there?


  6. Richard, whether a shot is fired or not, gun violence is committed by a microscopic portion of the gun owning community in the US. To be fair, you should count every time a gun owner has diffused a robbery or violent act by merely brandishing the gun, which is the most frequent form of self-defense with a firearm, when you consider the utility of private gun ownership.

    Folks, the event in Arizona is a statistical freak, just like an airline crash. People forget it is statistically more dangerous to drive than fly, but nonetheless develop phobias and irrational fears of flight when the media plasters such event with coverage and burns them into the social psyche. The media of course revels in firearms crimes, and those ignorant about the true makeup of firearms owners engage in all kinds of stereotyping and hysteria and the development of irrational fears.

    Then we have those who believe themselves enlightened, and capable of solving all human problems with the right enlightened policy which relies on the latest enlightened academic research or parlor theory, no matter what the human problem is. The result is irrational “gun control” policies which accomplish absolutely nothing to reduce crime, and wherever enacted result in more crime and death. The Constitution is brushed under the rug, by the very same people who cry bloody murder when the FBI wants to wiretap the phone lines of Muslims who espouse anti-American and jihadist views.

    In Florida, a gun owner commits a crime if he fails to take reasonable measures to protect the firearm from minors. 790.174. And yet, in Florida, neither parents nor automobile owners are held responsible (not even a misdemeanor) if the same minor drives drunk and kills someone, *even if the minor has a known history* of drinking, drug use, dui or drag racing. How enlightened.

  7. Mike Marshall says:

    Aaaaaaaaand it took exactly 4 posts to get to Islam.

    Seriously though, this is one of the best ideas I have heard in a long time…that will unfortunately never go anywhere. Pretty sure it would pass constitutional test at state level, at least it would here in MA!

    What serious constitutional issues would be presented here if requiring insurance for cars- another example of an extremely dangerous instrumentality if in the wrong hands- is clearly constitutional? And even if you aren’t “the wrong hands” you still have to buy it…

    • Mike Marshall says: “Pretty sure it would pass constitutional test at state level, at least it would here in MA! What serious constitutional issues would be presented here if requiring insurance for cars – another example of an extremely dangerous instrumentality if in the wrong hands – is clearly constitutional?”

      I think it’s no coincidence that this comment comes from Massachusetts . In my experience as a Mass. native, that state is virtually unique in actually *enforcing* a requirement for motor vehicle insurance.

      In most states, you can drive with no license plates if you are waiting for them to arrive for a newly registered car, and you are only likely to get caught driving uninsured if you are stopped for some other reason.

      Not so in Massachusetts: You need to show proof of insurance before you can register a car or get plates, and you can’t *ever* drive a car without plates. You normally send a messenger to the Registry of Motor Vehicles, or go yourself with another car, to pick up the plates to put them on the car before you drive it on the street.

      I was in a local arraignment court in Massachusetts once when a defendant was brought in from custody, after spending the weekend in jail. He had driven from the West Coast through a dozen or more states, without attracting any police notice, in an unregistered, uninsured car with no license plates. A few miles after entering Mass., he was pulled over for lack of plates, and arrested for operating an uninsured vehicle.

      If your car insurance lapses in Mass., the insurance company is required to notify the Registry, and the Registry notifies the police if you haven’t turned in the plates from the no-longer-insured car. We once had police knock on the door of our house in Cambridge looking for a housemate whose insurance had lapsed, who hadn’t turned in the plates (and was in fact still operating the car, at least until it was booted for parking violations), and for whom a warrant had therefore been issued.

      The result of all this? While damage caused by uninsured motorists is routine in most states (I have a relative who has lifelong disabilities caused by an uninsured drunk driver who hit her when she was a child), I never heard of such an accident in Mass. — people just don’t try to drive uninsured, because they know they can’t get away with it, and the penalties are serious.

  8. “this is one of the best ideas I have heard in a long time”

    Why? Exactly what logic supports the idea that it would reduce firearm injuries? It would accomplish absolutely nothing except to make firearm ownership more expensive for the very Americans who most need the ability to protect themselves, specifically, law abiding residents of lower income neighborhoods with high violent crime rates.

    “Aaaaaaaaand it took exactly 4 posts to get to Islam.”

    I don’t see how that comment refutes the analogy in any way. The left is here guilty of the same irrational demonizing of which it accuses the right.

    The auto insurance analogy is not 100% on point, because there is no constitutional right to automobile ownership. There is a constitutional right to firearm ownership. The Supreme Court has yet to flesh out the standard for restrictions, barriers, regulations and inhibitions of that right.

    That said, there does not even appear to be a rational connection between the harm of firearm injuries, and how insurance would prevent that harm. Nothing suggests that automobile insurance causes less driving relating injuries. And despite the law, especially here in Florida, our streets remain riddled with uninsured (and indeed unlicensed) drivers.

    The incidence of accidental or negligent discharges of firearms resulting in injury are extremely, extremely rare. Unlike automobiles, where “oopsie-dasies” happen every hour accross the US.

    Firearm injuries are nearly 100% the result of the intentional act of a human being who has resolved herself to commit a felonious, murderous act against another human being. Call it a cliche, but people kill people. Essentially, you propose that a person insure a piece a property against the possibility that someone else will resolve to kill someone, which is itself a crime punishable by death. Why not hold knife makers to the same standard, since more people are killed by stabbings every year than guns?

  9. RobbieC says:

    We should re-institute the poll tax, too while we’re busy coming up with unconstitutional ways to strip rights and freedoms.

  10. jpe says:

    “Pretty sure it would pass constitutional test at state level, at least it would here in MA!”

    If the fee is large, it’d be an undue burden on a right. Flatly unconstitutional.

  11. Why is this an attractive idea? For one thing, it does seem to me that it is far too easy for mentally ill persons to get hold of guns and go kill a group of people. Does anyone think that Christina Taylor Green would not be alive today if we had some sort of rule in place that would make it harder for people — especially disturbed people — to get a gun? It would be good to motivate the private sector to monitor to whom guns are being sold. Insurance is an economically efficient manner to harness the power of the market to undertake a monitoring function. It is not perfect, but if liabilities are structured well it is considerably better than nothing.

    Thus, “Jewish Marksman” (EDIT: and especially Richard Bartle) asks the right question above: what exactly should the liabilities be? And I won’t claim to have a fully worked out answer, or even a very carefully worked out answer to that: I think that will take some serious thought. As a first approximation to an answer, I’ll suggest it be limited to injuries caused when the gun is fired, whether accidentally or on purpose, and whether by the owner or others. They would need to be a rule cutting off liability for use of weapons stolen or lost if the theft or loss were reported to the police and the insurance company in a timely manner.

    It does sound plausible that if the insurance premiums ended up so large that almost no one could afford a gun there might be a Second Amendment issue (although I haven’t researched it). But I think that so long as the premiums were not much more than say car insurance — which is amazingly high here in the South Florida region — that ought to be allowable.

  12. In Florida, a gun owner commits a crime if he fails to take reasonable measures to protect the firearm from minors. 790.174. And yet, in Florida, neither parents nor automobile owners are held responsible (not even a misdemeanor) if the same minor drives drunk and kills someone, *even if the minor has a known history* of drinking, drug use, dui or drag racing. How enlightened.

    Yes, how odd to find a rule that recognizes it is easier to control an inanimate object than a 16-to-18-year-old.

    • Virginia in Springfield says:

      The arrogance dripping from your tone is extremely offensive. If one’s minor child has a history of drinking or drug use and driving while under the influence, and one does not hide one’s keys so he can’t drive, one is truly negligent. It is not the control of the person at issue here, it is access to the object. But then, I would not expect a liberal to refrain from twisting to win an argument. You did not win, though, you just showed how arrogant you are.

  13. Yet the law does not oblige the parent to control the car or the keys if the child has a known drinking, drug, drag racing or mental health issue. Low hanging fruit.

    • Virginia in Springfield says:

      And like the proposed mandatory gun insurance, it is kept this way not for any constitutional or public safety reason, but to provide a ready pool of funds for personal injury attorneys.

  14. Yet the law does not oblige the parents to control the inanimate keys to the car? Low hanging fruit.

  15. Brett Bellmore says:

    Use of the title, “A Modest Proposal” is normally, unless you’re a real dunderhead, intended to indicate a satirical skewering of some movement you think wrong headed, as with Swift’s original Modest Proposal that starving Irish eat their own children.

    Watching numerous commentators, not to mention Michael himself, take this proposal seriously, I wonder: Did the British aristocracy respond to Swift’s Proposal by suggesting recipes?

    That aside, the whole discussion is somewhat delusional, if meant to be serious; This is the sort of thing you couldn’t pull off during the gun control movement’s heyday, you think you’ve got any chance now? Have Heller and the success of the concealed carry movement unhinged you all?

  16. Mike Marshall says:

    Jewish Marksman-

    I don’t think think that an insurance requirement here would reduce or prevent gun violence or gun accidents in just the same way that car insurance and its regime of penalties and rate increases does anything to reduce lousy driving. In theory, it could even do the opposite! Insurance has the bizarre function of actually decreasing the law’s deterrent effect because the potentially negligent party- say, a driver- knows that the economic aspect of the harm will be covered for him.

    But that’s not the point of insurance. The point of a car insurance requirement is to guarantee that the person who is harmed is properly compensated for their economic loss. Why would having such a thing be a bad idea in the case of guns?

    As far as the constitutionality of the whole thing- JPE you certainly have a point. Wish I’d thought of that. But, are you saying that if the rate is low enough, we’re ok?

  17. “Why would having such a thing be a bad idea in the case of guns?”

    Because the statistical likelihood of any given gun owner harming another human being is incredibly small. More people are stabbed in the US every year, so why do we not mandate knife insurance? There are many, many ways human beings intentionally and accidentally kill and maim each other. Why not require everyone to carry an umbrella policy?

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ‘0 which is not a hashcash value.

  18. My comments seem to banned from the site. I guess “discourse” is a misnomer.

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ‘0 which is not a hashcash value.

  19. My followup comments seem to be banned. I guess “discourse” is a misnomer.

    • I have no idea what you are talking about. What error message did you get? What browser are you using? Have you tried clearing cookies & cache?

      • Having done some hunting through the spam filters, I see that some comments from you were flagged by the WP Hashcash plugin to WordPress as spam. Hashcash is my first line of defense: it has blocked literally thousands of spam messages since I moved the blog to wordpress, and false positives are rare. It doesn’t send me notice of blocked posts, I’d be overwhelmed.

        As I understand it, in order to trigger this plugin you have to have disabled javascript. Most bots don’t have it enabled, so this functions as a pretty effective bot-checker. Since your earlier posts got through fine, but the latest two didn’t, I have to think that you have changed something on your browser configuration. Might that be the case? (Although it’s odd that the comment above got through. Did you change it back?)

        Anyway, I’m going to override the spam label on the two posts I found. If there are more, I’m afraid you will have to repost them. If you or others have further troubles posting, please contact me.

  20. Hard facts, as always, make bad law.

    Oh and Max? I guess the whole more reasoned discourse, less invective thing was only in force for a week after the shooting, is that it? Or does it only apply to right-wing vitriol, while your kind of vile, ad hominem slam of about 125 million Americans is exempt? Just checking, so I’ll know the rules.

  21. James Madison says:

    “If they fail to make sure that the purchaser is insured” so in other words another ham-fisted gun grabber rule that only applies to lawful gun owners. This rule would have absolutely zero applicability criminals since they didn’t purchase them.

    FWIW, the “Free-market” already requires firearms insurance for gun owners. The only real way to safely train with live ammo in Miami involves joining a private shooting club which has insurance. I belong to two. All public ranges: Trailglades, Markham, Ace’s, Pembroke etc. tailor their rules to the lowest common denominator – no drawing from a holster, no double taps, no moving off the x, no failure drills. This sort of training is what the police do, and the training gun-grabbers tell us we should all do, but you just cannot do it at a range, unless you form a club which rents out the entire range and has its own insurance policy.

    The “Free Market” the author of this blog article referred to is a government created market, not a “Free Market.” It is sad that the author of this article cannot differentiate between these, but that’s the world we live in.

  22. Even if your first point (that the rule would apply only to lawful gun owners) is right — and I think one could structure a rule to create incentives to secure weapons when not in use, thus making it harder to steal them — that fails to prove it is a bad idea.

    No one is suggesting the rule would be a panacea. That it would fail to solve the whole problem of gun violence is not the point. Rather the point is whether it would solve an appreciable fraction of the gun violence problem at a reasonable cost. I don’t have estimates for either, so I can’t answer that question. But it seems worth asking. If, for example, we could make it really really hard for people with mental problems to go to the gun store/show and get a gun, that would have real benefits.

    That there would still be a black market in guns seems likely. But maybe one could drive up the costs at least.

    Maybe it’s not the best rule. I’d love to hear a better one. It does seem to me that the current rule is pretty bad.

    I also liked the line from Lawrence O’Donnell relating to the recent deregulation of the extra-large clips: “I blame the individual for the first 10 bullets. I blame the law for the next 21 bullets that he fired.

    In the case of guns, the analogy to cars and required insurance is imperfect, but not inapt. The requirement that we have car insurance to drive also only affects lawful drivers. People who steal cars don’t usually carry insurance for them. And they get into accidents. We don’t therefore conclude that the mandatory insurance regime for cars is illegitimate, do we?

    Your last paragraph misses the point. The idea is to harness market power in the service of a social goal. This is often the most efficient way to regulate. For example, the idea of creating pollution credits that can be traded — given how we define property rights, there is at present no other market for pollution rights — creates a market which serves a regulatory purpose. The idea is that it is more efficient than command and control regulation. Regulation of this sort is justified on economic grounds when there is a market failure, here an externality that can be internalized. The absence of the market was “government created” in the sense that we defined property rights relating to pollution in one arbitrary way, instead of another arbitrary way. The “government created market” fixes that gap.

  23. “If, for example, we could make it really really hard for people with mental problems to go to the gun store/show and get a gun, that would have real benefits.”

    My question is whether or not you have read Heller, have made a conclusion as to the level of scrutiny that applies to an absolute ban on ownership by a certain class of individuals, and then what that conclusion implies for a ban on ownership by those with “mental problems”. What is a “mental problem?” A phobia? Autism? Mild depression? ADHD?

    What science supports the notion that society has the ability to predict violent behavior by an individual with no past propensity for violence? I have not closely followed this Arizona story with respect to the shooter, but is there evidence that a psychiatric evaluation of some sort would have predicted his actions?

    • I don’t have a view as to the level of scrutiny that will be used post-Heller. I imagine it will be intermediate in most cases, but don’t claim any expertise at all in this. I invite correction.

      But here’s the thing: while an absolute ban on gun purchases by people with, say,schizophrenia, might make the country a better place, I don’t think that is what the required insurance plan entails.

      The constitutionally convenient aspect of the required insurance plan is that it isn’t a facial ban on any class of persons buying a gun. (I would like to argue that it might be one as applied, but under current doctrine the private sector cut-out, the fact that the insurance company is not a state actor, suggest that this argument might not work.) Even if it is open to litigants to show that there is a constitutionally infirm discriminatory outcome against a protected class, I wonder if as regards those suspected of a propensity to misuse the weapon there might not be the necessary means-end rationality to survive review, at least under intermediate scrutiny.

      A much more difficult question — to which I most certainly don’t have an answer in my pocket — is how the insurer would be able to figure out how to price the product. How are insurers supposed to distinguish between those who might be dangerously mentally ill and those who are considered healthy and low risk? But that’s exactly why I find this an attractive idea: this hard question is one that the market would become incentivized to answer, and if we believe markets are powerful, we should expect the market to come up with a good answer, maybe even a better one than one would get from a regulatory process. Insurance companies have evolved metrics for distinguishing among drivers, and I believe I’ve seen references to research suggesting that they could make much finer distinctions if they wanted to. Perhaps that same sifting skill could be applied to this problem?

      PS. I gather your posting problems have resolved themselves?

  24. “Perhaps that same sifting skill could be applied to this problem?”

    The same result could be achieved by government outsourcing of the “sifting” function in a competitive fashion by the agency designated by the legislature, without the proposed de facto tax on gun owners.

  25. The private “sifter” would issue a report to the government authority, not make a dispositive judgment. No different from an agency like OSHA outsourcing drug tests, or a judge appointing a psychiatrist to do a psych evaluation. The added benefit, as opposed to the insurance company scheme, is that the agency decision is subject to appeal and due process.

    • Now we have two different problems: (1) the agency isn’t bound to follow the private advice, and if it goes through (very slow!) notice and comment well may not. More fatally, the ‘sifter’ is now just a consultant, rather than a whole industry of private parties motivated by the profit motive, Unless you believe that it is possible for a consultant to reach decisions as good as the market — central planning anyone? — you are not going to think this will result in as clever a metric.

      Note that it is perfectly consistent to believe, as I do, that markets are usually best at solving price/production problems, and believing that markets are subject to a host of failures (e.g. externalities, public goods, monopoly) that only governments can identify and correct. The rub comes in how governments go about the corrections.

  26. Lengthy comment got spammed again. I thought I had set no-script plugin to permanently allow scripts on your site, was mistaken.

  27. James Madison says:

    “But it seems worth asking. If, for example, we could make it REALLY REALLY HARD for people with mental problems to go to the gun store/show and get a gun, that would have real benefits.” But the Mandatory Insurance proposal has nothing specifically to do with people with mental problems. It sounds like what you want is for it to be REALLY REALLY HARD for anyone to have a gun. Since the Second Amendment prohibits the outright prohibition of firearms, gun grabbers like to take advantage of any tragedy and come up with some goldilocks rule that makes it harder for the average honest person to acquire a gun. I.e. Tienamen Square led to the prohibition of inexpensive Chinese made guns and ammo.

    However, gungrabbers generally abhor practical laws that would actually prevent criminals and the mentally ill from obtaining weapons. For example. How come Florida does not put a scarlet “F” on the drivers license of anyone who is a convicted Felon? If they did, then it would be very easy for law abiding citizens to make sure that they are not selling a gun (or a lock picking tools, or 1,000lbs of fertilizer) to convicted felon. It would also have the incidental benefit of letting landlords, bartenders, employers and anyone else who has reason to look at a drivers license know that the person with the scarlet letter could be trouble. Florida could even come up with a coded system that let bartenders know that the person is a felon who commits violent felonies while impaired, or an employer know that the person is an embezzling crook. This is a much simpler solution than the insurance scheme you like.

    The fundamental problem of keeping guns away from the mentally ill is coming up with a way of adjudicating people mentally ill. As far as I know there are no national standards and there is certainly know centralized database that one could check. Anyone who genuinely wants to keep guns away from the mentally ill should see about setting this up, and not thinking about some pie in the sky insurance scheme where the insurance companies will decide who can have a gun.

    I guarantee you that Jared Loughner would have qualified for some gun insurance policy under your scheme if he paid a premium equal to 110% of the policy limits. But, I’ll be the author of the article is not really interested in keeping guns away from Mr. Loughner specifically, but really wants guns kept away from everyone.

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