Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Case for Firearms Insurance

We require automobile owners to carry vehicle insurance. It's time we did the same for firearms.

The tragic shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut are in the news this weekend. Tuesday it was a shopping mall in Oregon, and before that the salon in Brookfield, WI, just a few miles down the road from me. Before this topic fades into the news cycle again, I'd like to put forward my suggestion of a way to address the problem: Require gun owners to purchase insurance which will compensate victims wrongfully injured by weapons they own.

I don't like it when others drive recklessly, because I know that careless or uninsured drivers make my insurance rates higher. I'm a pretty careful driver, and I don't want my rates to go up, therefore I want other drivers to be careful too. Purchasing and maintaining a car is expensive, but that cost is dwarfed by the liability costs for possible injuries should I be responsible for an accident. Few people could afford to cover this cost themselves, but we have a system of automobile insurance which helps to share the burden of the high cost of injury and accident. This sort of insurance is such a good idea that is has been adopted as public policy in many places.

I suggest that firearms insurance can do the same thing, removing some of the burden and cost from the victims of a crime and placing it back on gun owners. There would be some amount of government regulation needed, but no more than  is needed for vehicle insurance, and the private insurance industry would handle the rest. I have been told that "gun control doesn't work", but it seems clear that our system of automobile control works. There are flaws, but on the whole it works very well. Why shouldn't this form of gun control work too?

If this seems like it might be expensive, realize that it is already expensive. We pay a huge cost for firearms injuries, most of which are paid for with public funds (see this: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7869455). We can shift that cost from a public tax burden to a private insurance burden. Quoting from the conclusion of the abstract (emphasis added):
"Ninety-six percent of the patients in this report had their costs of care covered by the government, because they had no primary insurance coverage. Primary prevention of firearm injuries, especially those caused by handguns, may be the most effective cost-control measure."
There is even potential here for lower taxes. If firearms injury rates come down, the taxes needed to pay the medical costs come down too. It could be argued that the private insurance industry is likely to be much more efficient about distributing money to victims that would otherwise be handled by Medicaid and Medicare.

Almost done, but I think I need to add a word or two about Second Amendment Rights. Suppose I were to say ...
"I have a right to happiness. If I had more money I could do a lots more fun things, and that would make me happy. Somebody give me $100,000 please, it's my right."
Which of course, it complete bullshit. No one is going to give me money just because I say it makes me happy. Likewise, I don't care to pay for the burden of irresponsible gun owners. I don't even want to remove anyone's rights. I want recognition that this right bears a heavy price tag, and a more equitable means of sharing that cost. If someone wants or needs a gun that's OK by me, but along with the Right of gun ownership they should be willing to accept the costs that come with it, and be prepared to pay for it themselves.

Update:
A follow-on, regarding my objection to the "One Good Person with a Gun" hypothesis.
Addendum: Is Gun Liability Insurance the Next Big Thing?