10 months, 4 weeks ago
Gun owners could soon find themselves paying a penalty for their weapons. Witness the following thought experiment at San Francisco Chronicle:
Mandatory insurance needs to enter the post-Newtown debate about guns. Requiring gun owners to carry liability insurance, as many states require vehicle owners to do, is not a magic bullet to solve the problem that leads to 30,000 dead Americans every year. But it is a tactic that, for a number of reasons, could have significant beneficial impact.
First, a well-drafted state law requiring gun owners to show proof of insurance will raise the cost of gun ownership. But insurance companies will offer rates that take into account the risk posed by each gun and gun owner, just as there are differential premiums for young drivers and sports cars. Thus gun owners will have a financial incentive to think about and implement safety measures, some of which would surely be developed in response to insurance-cost-driven demand.
See a similar commentary by Isa-Lee Wolf. It sounds like Marsha Cohen is all proud of herself, even though I’ve seen this idea floated several times in the last couple of weeks. But there’s only one problem with this approach. It runs squarely into the constitution. Let’s rehearse recent history for a moment. Right on the heels of the Supreme Court Heller ruling, the city of Chicago, still recalcitrant, forbade firearms ownership within its jurisdiction unless the applicant practiced and qualified at a range also within its jurisdiction, and then simultaneously regulated ranges within its jurisdiction out of business. The Seventh Circuit didn’t like this very much, and Glenn Reynolds observes of this particular ruling, “The right to practice at a firing range, then, is at the very least one of the aspects of the Second Amendment right to arms that reinforces its core purpose.” Glenn further observes that:
… punitive controls on ammunition, designed to make gun ownership or shooting prohibitively expensive or difficult, would be unlikely to pass constitutional muster. If firing-range regulations that impose burdens on target practice violate the Second Amendment, then restrictions with a similar effect—such as the dollar-per-bullet tax proposed by a Baltimore mayoral candidate—would also constitute violations, it seems. Making it “difficult to buy bullets in the city”—the avowed purpose of the tax—would seem to be precisely the sort of purposeful discrimination that would violate the Second Amendment. It might even be analogized to discriminatory taxes on newsprint, or the licensing of newsracks, both of which have been found to constitute excessive burdens on First Amendment rights.
And if this is so, then “punitive” regulations or discriminatory taxes or burdens (or insurance) would seem to fall under the same prohibition. At the very least, it isn’t obvious that this would be acceptable to the courts, and it hasn’t been directly adjudicated.
Finally, State Farm has voluntarily considered such proposals.
Gun safety in the home hasn’t been discussed much in the recent national conversation on gun violence, but the head of the nation’s largest homeowners and auto insurance company acknowledges that it could be.
Edward B. Rust Jr., CEO and chairman of the board of State Farm Mutual Insurance Co., said this week that gun ownership “could be among a multitude of things” considered among the risk factors used by insurance companies to determine the cost of homeowners insurance policies. “But,” he added, “whether someone owns a gun doesn’t necessarily make them a risk. . . . The bigger debate is, Are people competent in gun ownership?”
This strikes me as silly as charging customers higher premiums if they happen to have a Doberman or German Shepherd in their home. Actuarial mathematicians have more important things to worry with, and penalizing firearms owners also seems to be a bad way to start a boycott against your company.
Gun owners’ insurance. An idea whose time has come – and gone – and never really was sensible to begin with.