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Is Gun Liability Insurance a Good Idea? Is It Even Possible?

Gun violence is a daily occurrence in the United States, but it's tragedies such as Aurora and Newtown last year that bring our deep rifts in beliefs to the surface. Politicians in many states have proposed new measures to curb gun violence and increase gun control, much to the displeasure of others. One such proposal that has been made in at least a handful of states is the idea of requiring mandatory liability insurance for all gun owners. Arguments can be made both for and against such a requirement, and it's a perplexing debate full of hypotheticals.

On the one hand, it seems like common sense to require people to pay for a policy covering their gun(s). In order to register and legally operate a car in this country, a driver is required by law to insure the vehicle. This insurance is based on the grounds that cars can and do cause involuntary harm to others and makes the driver responsible for those possibilities, as well as forcing the driver to consider them when purchasing the car.

Guns, too, can cause involuntary harm to others, so wouldn't it make sense to require the owner to bear the costs of that harm? Most people likely don't consider the possible accidental harm that could come from their guns when they are purchasing them; they are more likely to consider the aspect of protection and security. Requiring the purchase of liability insurance could convince someone who is not well-prepared to own and properly keep a gun to reconsider their purchase, or incentivize safety since less dangerous guns and protection like safety locks could qualify a purchaser for lower rates.

On the other hand, a mandatory liability insurance for guns could simply worsen the problem. Many guns are already purchased and owned illegally – an expensive insurance policy could just encourage more of this. A popular argument against proposed gun control laws cites that many of the laws would only punish honest, law-abiding gun owners and purchasers, and it can be made in this situation as well. Making the purchase of guns more expensive might dissuade some people from purchasing them, but more than likely, not those who plan to or already do use guns to harm others.

Another issue complicating the idea of mandatory insurance is with the language that some states are considering. One bill in New York would require coverage for damages from act of negligence as well as willful acts. This goes against the nature of insurance itself as Robert P. Hartwig, the president of the Insurance Information Institute recently stated in a New York Times article, "Insurance will cover you if your home burns down in an electrical fire, but it will not cover you if you burn down your own house, and you cannot insure yourself for arson." While a policy covering willful acts would most likely help victims receive compensation, it could also let a gun owner off-the-hook financially for a shooting they fully intended to commit. Policies that only covered acts of negligence, on the other hand, could put the case of a shooting in self defense, for example, in a grey area for insurance companies and policy holders – the gun owner could still be liable for any costs due to the fact that the act was intentional. 

 

Interestingly, homeowners' insurance policies have covered claims related to shootings in a few notable cases, despite language in the policies stating that they didn't cover illegal acts. One such example was a case against the families of the 2 Columbine shooters and the men who supplied them with guns. Of a $2.53 million settlement, the families of the shooters were responsible for $1.568 million, all of which came from their homeowners' polices.  

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