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Liability Insurance for gun purchases

By: Candace Embry

Blog Category: The Economics of Gun Control

Liability Insurance for gun purchases

With the latest gun-related tragedy in Newtown, CT, gun control has resurfaced as a topic of conversation and many Americans are ripe for change. Now that gun violence has affected our budding youth, “there is a moral price to be paid for inaction.”[1]  So, let’s get to work America!

John Wasik of Forbes magazine describes President Obama’s solutions of banning assault weapons, multiple-ammo clips, and gun-show sales as “low-hanging fruit approaches.”[2]  The President also proposed increased funding for law enforcement and providing easier access to mental health care.[3]  Will any of these really work? John Wasick says, “No.”

Instead, Wasik suggests an approach focused on forcing gun owners and sellers to take on the financial burden that gun-ownership poses to all Americans. Wasik argues that gun owners should bear the associated risks and costs through the mandated purchase of liability insurance.[4]  Gun violence is harmful not only to one’s physical well being, but also to our economy. When a household acquires a gun, the imposed costs on society are between $100 and $1,800 per year.[5]  However, the impact in the aggregate is actually much greater. The Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research reported that gun violence impacts quality of life, emotional trauma, and even property values.[6]  Considering these broader effects, gun violence resulted in a $100 billion cost to society in 1998.[7]  These are the costs for which gun owners and sellers should be held liable.

Wasik’s plan would work much like car, homeowners, or health insurance plans requiring gun owners to shop for and secure a liability insurance policy prior to even making the purchase. Rates would be determined by actuaries’ calculations of risk based on factors like age, residency, history of mental illness, and the type of gun. Those most at risk to commit a gun crime would be quoted higher rates, and, ideally, this will create an economic disincentive and make gun-ownership too expensive for those who pose the greatest risks to society. This is not the first time the idea has come up. In fact, a similar law was proposed in the Illinois legislature in 2009, but it was quickly defeated.[8]

While insurance is not a solution to all problems presented by gun violence in America, if combined with the President’s suggested changes, mandatory insurance policies could actually fund greater protections to prevent more tragedies like the one in Newtown, CT. Most importantly, Wasik posits this plan would likely survive a second amendment challenge.

So, what’s the verdict? Will we sacrifice morality for another round of inaction? Or will we challenge gun owners to put their money where their guns are?

The opinions expressed herein are strictly those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Widener Journal of Law, Economics & Race.
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*Candace Embry is the 2013-2014 Articles Editor (DE) on the Widener Journal of Law, Economics & Race Journal. To learn more about Candace, click here to visit her page.
[1] John Christoffersen, Joe Biden: Gun Control Views Have Changed Since Newtown, HUFFINGTON POST (Feb. 21, 2013, 6:48 PM), http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/02/21/joe-biden-gun-control_n_2735716.html.
[2] John Wasik, Newtown’s New Reality: Using Liability Insurance to Reduce Gun Deaths, FORBES (Dec. 17, 2012, 7:34 PM), http://www.forbes.com/sites/johnwasik/2012/12/17/newtowns-new-reality-using-liability-insurance-to-reduce-gun-deaths.
[3] Now is the Time to do Something about Gun Violence, THE WHITE HOUSE, http://www.whitehouse.gov/issues/preventing-gun-violence#what-we-can-do.
[4] Wasik, supra note 2.
[5] Brad Plumer, The Economics of Gun Control, THE WASHINGTON POST (Dec. 28, 2012), http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2012/12/28/the-economics-of-gun-controlSee generally Philip Cook & Jens Ludwig, The Social Costs of Gun Ownership, 90 JOURNAL OF PUB. ECON. 379-91 (2006) available at http://home.uchicago.edu/~ludwigj/papers/JPubE_guns_2006FINAL.pdf.
[6] The Case for Gun Policy Reforms in America, JOHNS HOPKINS CENTER FOR GUN POLICY AND RESEARCH (Oct. 2012), http://www.jhsph.edu/research/centers-and-institutes/johns-hopkins-center-for-gun-policy-and-research/publications/WhitePaper102512_CGPR.pdf
[7] Id.
[8] Wasik, supra note 2.

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