New legislation introduced in the House of Representatives last Friday would require potential gun owners to carry liability insurance coverage before being allowed to purchase a weapon. Despite support from gun control advocates in Congress, however, insurance industry members have historically been skeptical of such measures.
The Firearm Risk Protection Act, introduced by Representative Carolyn Maloney of New York, would impose a $10,000 fine if an owner is found not to have a current liability policy. Service members and law enforcement officers would be exempt from the requirement.
“We require insurance to own a car, but no such requirement exists for guns,” Maloney said in a statement. “The results are clear: car fatalities have declined by 25% in the last decade, but gun fatalities continue to rise.”
Maloney – who has introduced such legislation before – went on to say that auto insurance has a “halo effect” on drivers, encouraging them to take prevent accidents, while no such incentive exists for gun owners.
“An insurance requirement would allow the free market to encourage cautious behavior and help save lives,” she said. “Adequate liability coverage would also ensure that the victims of gun violence are fairly compensated when crimes or accidents occur.”
The bill’s passage is highly unlikely, but even in the event the legislation is approved, insurance law experts believe its intended goals would never be realized.
According to George Mocsary of Southern Illinois University School of Law, the current model for liability insurance would neither deter gun violence nor provide adequate compensation for victims.
“The last year has seen a number of calls for legislation requiring would-be gun owners to maintain liability insurance,” said Mocsary, an assistant professor at SIU’s School of Law, during a forum on similar legislation that was considered in Connecticut. “The idea is that it would serve as a private regulator of guns and compensate victims of gun violence. There’s good reason to believe, however, that insurance would fall short of both of these goals.”
Mocsary noted that under the current liability insurance model, nearly all intentional criminal actions are excluded from coverage.
Nearly 20% of gun violence victims are shot by criminals while committing a crime themselves, Mocsary said, while roughly 97% of deaths caused by firearms are the result of suicide or homicide—neither of which fall under liability policies.
Additionally, negligent entrustment and negative storage—which are sometimes used in attempt to provide coverage for criminal acts--aren’t recognized by many jurisdictions, “especially where a gun was stolen and then used in a crime.”
“And that accounts for a great deal of guns used in crime,” Mocsary said.
Insurers would also have difficulty adapting the existing auto liability model to firearms, as they have “no historical experience” in coverage for gun owners, who typically have between 0.5% and 3% as many exposures as drivers.
Additionally, both Mocsary points out that even in the event of a gun liability insurance mandate, criminals are highly unlikely to purchase insurance, meaning victims would not receive compensation.
“There’s no reason to believe a criminal who doesn’t fear criminal sanctions for homicide would fear a penalty for not insuring,” Mocsary said.