firearms insuranceThe recent mass killings by mentally unstable individuals with high-powered weapons have forced everyone, including the National Rifle Association (NRA), to open up a dialogue about how to put an end to it.

Some, such as NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre, propose that we have armed guards and teachers in every school. Not that long ago this would have been laughable. Now Utah is already training its teachers to arm themselves for self-defense.

Others advocate limiting semi-automatic weapons and large capacity magazines. Liberals favor this, but face staunch opposition from conservatives who believe that any ground given up moves them to the total gun ban approach found in Great Britain, which wouldn't even let some of its own Olympic team practice.

But many Americans are simply "voting with their credit cards." Rifles are flying off the rack at gun stores, while 30-round magazines are on back-order all over the Internet.

Insuring the way

One way to end this arms race, suggests the British-based magazine The Economist, is mandatory insurance: Gun owners would have to buy liability insurance against the threat that their guns would do damage.

It's easy to understand because it's like auto insurance. Faster and more dangerous cars carry higher insurance premiums, as do drivers with a plethora of speeding tickets and accidents. Owners of firearms deemed more dangerous would pay more to insure them.

The owner of a single-shot .22 caliber rifle would pay a significantly lower rate than the owner of a Bushmaster military-style rifle. Similarly an older person with no record would pay the minimum to protect their home, while a younger individual with a record of driving under the influence (DUI) and/or domestic violence might pay a premium, even if there was no conviction. Multiple guns, like multiple cars, would require you to pay more.

Taxation with representation

Advocates of this plan say the burgeoning cost of gun insurance would force gun owners with multiple high-powered weapons to either sell or turn in their firearms. It would likely prove to be less confrontational than a Congressional battle like the one being fought over the budget deficit. It accomplishes the same purpose and thwarts bringing up Second Amendment rights.

Stating the obvious

But here are the caveats:

  • There are 300 million guns in this country, many of which are unregistered. Gun owners would have to register their firearms to insure them, a proposal which is becoming more unlikely since a New York newspaper published the names and addresses of registered gun owners, making them potential targets for criminals who want their weapons.
  • Each state would have to pass its own laws requiring gun insurance, since the federal government can't usurp the state-run insurance industry. States such as Texas would probably never pass such laws, thus creating the same situation of unequal laws now in effect regarding gun registration and concealed carry.
  • Many people won't voluntarily insure their guns unless they see a potential liability. We insure our homes because we're afraid someone may trip and fall on our doorstep and possibly sue.
Being liable

Theoretically you would also be liable if someone borrows or steals your gun and uses it to commit a crime. However, courts have been reluctant to uphold such lawsuits. Cities which have attempted to sue gun makers for the damage their products do have been, so-to-speak, shot down. The courts have continually ruled that there is no product liability if something does what it is intended to do. And there's no denying that guns do kill.

The Economist points out that the NRA itself offers liability coverage. But when I checked the NRA's insurance website it showed that the liability is only offered in certain circumstances such as self-defense, which is why the cost is only $165 a year for $100,000 of insurance. The NRA is basically talking about legal costs, which, for homeowners attacked in their own residences and who fight back, is usually minimal. Most people who are attacked within their own home are never charged and sometimes even praised.

So it appears that the answer is that there is no good answer, and especially no answer which would satisfy both sides. Above all, no insurance company wants to be branded as the one that insured the guns involved in a massacre.