In wake of Oregon shooting, is it time to reconsider gun liability insurance?

Would mandatory gun liability insurance make the US safer? Several experts weigh in on the divisive question, with different opinions.

Insurance News


Last Thursday, 26-year-old Christopher Harper-Mercer stormed onto the Umpqua Community College campus in Roseburg, Oregon and fatally shot nine people, and injured nine more before killing himself following a gun battle with responding police officers.

To carry out his crimes, Harper-Mercer carried five handguns and one long gun, along with enough ammunition for what officials termed a “prolonged gunfight.” An ATF investigation concluded he had another eight firearms at home.

All 14 of the guns were purchased legally, and in the wake of the shooting, familiar demands for tougher firearms laws have echoed from the White House all the way down to Harper-Mercer’s own father.

“How was he able to compile that kind of arsenal,” Ian Mercer asked CNN. “It has to change. How can it not? Even people that believe in the right to bear arms, what right do you have to take someone’s life?”

In the insurance community, gun rights and regulation collide on the issue of firearm liability insurance – a proposal made in some corners to require gun owners to purchase liability insurance. While the question of gun liability insurance shutting down a spree shooter is widely dismissed, some have hoped it may deter gun violence in general.

In a previous opinion post for Insurance Business America, Professor Peter Kochenburger of the Insurance Law Center at UConn Law School said that while a gun liability insurance proposal is “so fraught with obstacles that it seems to be unworkable,” nevertheless “the stakes are too high to rule it out.”

“Proponents argue that when engages, the insurance industry will have the financial incentive to research and improve firearm safety; to utilize risk-based pricing in assessing, accepting (or rejecting) and pricing risk for individual gun owners; to create private market incentives for safe storage and use; and to compensate gun violence victims,” Kochenburger said.

As a comparison, Kochenburger points to the role insurers played in promoting the safer design of cars, homes and other insurable products.

However, he also points out two major problems with the proposal: first, the nature of gun violence – just 1.5% of firearm deaths were classified as accidental. Second, not all shooters will have insurance. This is especially true of those who are most likely to injure others.

Still, Kochenburger sees the proposal as one worth exploring.

“We do not have enough information to reject or to champion insurance as a tool to significantly reduce gun violence,” he said. “However, its potential benefits, and the power of the private sector in addressing similar issues, are considerable. We need more rational discussion and evaluation, rather than blind opposition or naïve support.”

Keep up with the latest news and events

Join our mailing list, it’s free!