Could solving the nation’s tragic issue of gun-related deaths lie with the insurance industry?
Insurers historically led the way in incentivizing improvements in auto, fire, flood, and homeowner safety. Before seat belts, airbags, and anti-lock brakes became standard equipment, insurance companies rewarded drivers with discounts for buying vehicles that came with such features. Homeowners get discounts for installing smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, erecting childproof fences around swimming pools, and buying homes close to fire stations. So, it follows that the insurance industry could perhaps be a catalyst for stricter gun control and firearm safety. Or does it?
A new survey
by ValuePenguin, a personal finance website that analyzes and researches topics from insurance to credit cards, found that 75% of American consumers believe gun owners should be required to have liability insurance on their firearms, and insurance or not, 95% of Americans support some form of restriction on firearm access.
An insurance solution, according to some, is a positive step that doesn’t involve banning firearms or taking away anyone’s right to bear arms.
Is insurance ‘the way forward’
“We were interested to see if there are any middle ground proposals out there and since we’re an insurance researcher, we were wondering if insurance is the way forward with safety and incentivizing gun safety,” said Divya Sangameshwar, insurance expert and spokesperson for ValuePenguin. “And, to take that further, could we penalize unsafe gun owners?”
Sangameshwar compared the possible role for the insurance industry in stemming gun-related deaths to the notion to insurers raising premiums or even cancelling coverage for unsafe drivers.
“If you get a DUI, you lose your insurance coverage, you pay a lot of fines,” she said. “So can the same theory be applied to irresponsible gun owners?”
The public seems to think so, at least according to ValuePenguin’s survey of roughly 2,000 U.S. consumers aged 18-to-77, divided nearly equally between gun owners and non-gun owners. About 82% of those surveyed said gun owners should be held liable for how their guns are used, even if they didn’t pull the trigger. In terms of responsibility, 39% of Americans say gun owners should be held criminally liable — a sentiment that’s highest among parents with underage children (45%). Meanwhile, 15% say they should be subject to civil liability and 28% say they should be held liable for both.
Possible liability levels surveyed
Just how much liability insurance should gun owners get? A 77% majority think gun owners should have between $50,000 and $250,000 in liability coverage for their guns. Meanwhile, just 7% called for $1 million or more in liability insurance for gun owners.
“The whole idea of even gun owners supporting insurance as a way to promote safe gun ownership seemed like a really interesting finding,” said Sangameshwar. “Of course, the two missing pieces of this puzzle is we didn’t get to talk to policymakers, or insurance companies.”
And there’s the rub. While the public may widely favor new restrictions on guns ownership, getting policymakers and insurance companies to move on the issue is a whole different matter.
“Gun liability insurance will not work,” said Jacob Rieper, an activist and blogger at Gun Politics New York, which tracks gun control legislation. “No insurance company would cover a policyholder’s intentional criminal acts and no insurance company would provide coverage for third party criminal misuse of a policyholder’s legally possessed firearm. This issue has floated around for years. It is just another form of harassment from the gun prohibitionist organizations.”
Sangameshwar insists the motivation behind the ValuePenguin survey is to improve gun safety and perhaps punish unsafe gun owners, and not an attempt to take away anyone’s ability to keep and bear arms.
Some cities require liability purchase
Some efforts to require gun liability insurance have been implemented in cities, but with limited goals and questionable results. The city of San Jose, California, passed an ordinance requiring gun owners to purchase liability insurance but it covered only damages from accidental discharges of the firearm, something that may already be covered in a standard homeowners policy.
“Gun liability insurance, if implemented thoughtfully, has the potential to enhance safety by encouraging responsible gun ownership,” said Brady Kirkpatrick, founder of GunMade.org, a Nebraska-based online gun search engine. “It would operate similarly to other liability insurances, providing coverage in the event of accidents, injuries, or property damage involving firearms. While it may not directly reduce instances of firearm violence, it can serve as an additional layer of protection for both gun owners and the general public.”
Kirkpatrick said implementing gun liability insurance should be done in a way that respects the rights of law-abiding gun owners and avoids burdening them with excessive costs or unreasonable requirements.
“Striking the right balance between safety measures and individual freedoms is key,” he said.
Gun-related deaths issue complex
Both gun enthusiasts and non-gun owners say the issue of gun violence and gun-related deaths may be more complex than can be solved by an insurance policy.
“In terms of reducing instances of firearm violence, liability insurance for gun owners may not have a significant impact,” said Ben Gold, founder of Recommended Home Buyers. “Combating gun violence will require a multi-faceted approach to address it.”
But Gold says insurance could provide a financial incentive for gun owners to act more responsibly.
“I believe that the debate around gun liability insurance should focus on encouraging responsible gun ownership and promoting safety education, rather than punitive measures or restrictions on legal gun ownership,” he said.
Doug Bailey is a journalist and freelance writer who lives outside of Boston. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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