Mandatory Gun Insurance – A Practical Plan To Make America Safer
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Since the 2nd Amendment says we can't require gun owners handle their guns responsibly, let's allow the marketplace make it in their interest to do so.
In 1996, Barry Loukaitis shot and killed a teacher and two students at Frontier Middle School in Moses Lake, Washington. At the time, he quoted a line from a Stephen King novel Rage:
"This sure beats algebra, doesn't it?"
A year later, Michael Carneal, from Heath High School in West Paducah, Kentucky, killed three girls in a pre-class prayer circle. A copy of King's Rage was found in his locker.
It hit Stephen King hard.
“That was enough for me," wrote King in an op-ed for The Guardian. “I asked my publishers to pull the novel. I didn’t pull Rage from publication because the law demanded it; I was protected under the First Amendment, and the law couldn’t demand it. I pulled it because in my judgment it might be hurting people, and that made it the responsible thing to do."
King made set an excellent example. If the Constitution prohibits the government from regulating guns, we need to find a way to motivate gun owners to want to do it themselves. Let the marketplace work like King's pangs of conscience did. How do we start? Require all guns to be insured.
Gun insurance would work very much like car insurance. You would need it to buy a gun, and the policy would have to include liabilty coverage in case that gun injures someone. If a gun owner has no accidents, his premiums go down. Someone who wants to "open carry" his weapon would pay more than someone who keeps it locked at home. Assualt weapons would be more expensive to insure than hunting rifles because they they have a greater capacity to do harm. But it wouldn't be government making these decisions, which would be unconstitutional - it would be insurance companies, competing with one another to keep premiums reasonable.
If we must allow guns, we should at least guarantee compensation to people harmed by guns, after all, we are all swimming in that pool of potential shooting victims. I know money can never make up for the damage a gun can do, but compensation is not an insignificant matter. Consider someone who is paralyzed, or left brain-damaged, or permanently disabled by a gun. That victim would be assured of having things like ramps, and nurses aids, and whatever other therapies he required, guaranteed for his lifetime. Currently, unless the locality has a “Victim Fund,” a shooting victim receives only the benefits his own medical insurance or Medicaid provides, and medical insurance does not include things like home modifications for a wheelchair, or hand controls for cars. The insurance companies wanting to participate in this new, no doubt lucrative market, could also be required to create a fund to take care of victims injured by illegal, uninsured guns, making sure anyone hurt by a gun has a recourse to whatever services they require.
Because money is always a great motivator, one immediate benefit of insuring guns is that it would change the behavior of some less than vigilant gun owners. People who leave loaded guns in the bedside table or in the glove compartment might reconsider that habit, since they are on the hook for a sizable deductible if someone gets hold of their gun and hurts someone else. Insurance companies would no doubt give policy discounts for gun owners who buy trigger locks or gun safes. Premiums would reflect the gun owners’ risk factors, like arrest and psychiatric histories. The more guns you own, the more it will cost. In other words, the market, so loved by the Right, just might cause gun owners to amass fewer guns and to be more careful with the ones they own.
Finally, mandatory gun insurance would result in a legal way to get guns out of the hands of our least reliable and most dangerous gun owners. Responsible gun owners who want to hunt or shoot competitively, or who want to protect their home or business, will comply with the law and buy insurance. Those with less honorable intentions will not. But police would be able to confiscate any gun they find that is uninsured. I’d like to make such confiscations permanent. Don’t step up and insure your gun? Lose it forever.
There is one more unintended benefit I can see happening if we require guns to be insured. The insurance companies will do a lot of the archiving of ballistic information we don’t allow police to do. Insurance companies would want ballistic signatures from every gun they insure. They would need it to verify, in the event a claim is filed, that it was indeed the gun they insure that caused the damage. While it is hardly a substitute for a national ballistics registry that would allow investigators to trace the gun that fired any bullet they recovered, police could subpoena ballistics information from insurance companies, helping in investigations and prosecutions, without ever having to build their own database.
So now we come to the sticking point. Is it constitutional? I know the NRA will say government cannot impinge on a right. It’s the same reason they use to oppose a national gun registry. But we know from the Supreme Court’s Affordable Care Act decision, that the government can require citizens to buy insurance, don’t we? And we know Congress has restricted gun ownership before with the expired assault weapons ban, which was also upheld by the Court. And, need I remind you, a woman’s Constitutional right to an abortion has been restricted so badly it’s on life support. My own state of Michigan passed a law that makes it illegal to offer an insurance policy that covers abortion in our state. If government can forbid insurance coverage on one Constitutional right, why couldn’t government demand insurance coverage on a different Constitutional right?
By the way, the NRA sells insurance to defend gun owners who harm someone in court, but I couldn't find a NRA policy that compensates shooting victims.
I know insuring guns is not the answer to the Barry Loukaitis or the Dylann Roofs of this world. But it is a first step in changing our cowboy shoot 'em up culture into one in which it is in the gun owner's financial interest to amass fewer guns and to be more responsible with the ones they own.
We have to start somewhere.
About Jean Ann Esselink: Contributing Editor for The New Civil Rights Movement. Straight friend to the gay community. Dedicated to liberal ideals like peace and sharing our chocolate cupcakes.