From our overstocked archives:
John Gear, Progressive Review, 1999 - We can fix the gun problem. We can make America safer, without limiting our right to bear arms. And we can do it without an expensive, dangerous, and futile "War on Guns."
To solve the real problem (keeping guns out of the wrong hands-without restricting other people) we must use an idea that has worked to limit losses from many other hazards: insurance. That's right, insurance, the system of risk-management contracts that lets people take responsibility for choices they make that impose risks on others.
Insurance is what lets society accommodate technology. Without it, we would have few autos, airplanes, trains, steamships, microwaves, elevators, skyscrapers, and little electricity, because only the wealthiest could accept the liability involved. When people are accountable for risks imposed on others, they act more responsibly. Insurance is what enables this accountability.
Rather than trying to limit access to or take guns away from law-abiding adults, we must instead insist that the adult responsible for a gun at any instant (maker, seller, or buyer) have enough liability insurance to cover the harm that could result if that adult misuses it or lets it reach the wrong hands.
Who gets the insurance proceeds, and for what? The state crime victims' compensation fund, whenever a crime involving guns is committed or a gun mishap occurs. The more victims, the bigger the payout. The greater the damage (from intimidation to multiple murders and permanent crippling), the greater the payout. The insurers will also pay the fund for other claims, such as when a minor commits suicide by gun or accidentally kills a playmate with Daddy's pistol. This will reduce such mishaps. Insurance is very effective in getting people to adopt safe practices in return for lower premiums.
When a crime involving a gun occurs, the firm who insured it pays the claim. If the gun is not found or is uninsured (and there will still be many of these at first) then every fund will pay a pro-rated share of the damages, based on the number of guns they insure. This will motivate insurance firms--and legitimate gun owners--to treat uninsured guns as poison, instead of as an unavoidable byproduct of the Second Amendment. Thus, insurance will unite the interests of all law-abiding citizens, gun owners and others, against the real problem with guns: guns in the hands of criminals, the reckless, the untrained, and juveniles.
Like other insurance, firearm insurance will be from a private firm or association, not the government. Owners, makers, and dealers will likely self-insure, forming large associations just as the early "automobilists" did. Any financially-sound group, such as the NRA, can follow state insurance commission rules and create a firearms insurance firm.
That's it. No mass or government registrations. Except for defining the rules, no government involvement at all. Each owner selects his or her insurance firm. By reaffirming the right to responsible gun ownership and driving uninsured guns out of the system, we use a proven, non-prohibitionist strategy for improving public safety.
Each insurance firm will devise a strategy for earning more revenue with fewer claims. Thus gun owners -- informed by the actuaries -- will choose for ourselves the controls we will tolerate, and the corresponding premiums. (Rates will vary according to the gun we want to insure, our expertise, and claims history.)
Some will want a cheaper policy that requires trigger locks whenever the gun is not in use; others will not. Hobbyists will find cheaper insurance by keeping their firearms in a safe at the range. Newer, younger shooters and those who choose weapons that cause more claims will pay higher premiums. That way, other owners, with more training and claims-free history, will pay less. (Insurance companies are expert at evaluating combined risks and dividing them up-in the form of premiums-with exquisite precision.)
Soon, the firms will emphasize cutting claims. That means promoting gun safety and fighting black market gun dealers, which is where many criminals get guns. And every legitimate gun owner will have a persuasive reason -- lower premiums -- to help in the fight.
We need to start discussing this now, because it will take several years to enact. Gun-control advocates will hate this because it forsakes the failed prohibitionist approach. But the evidence is clear: there is virtually no chance that prohibiting guns can work without destroying our civil liberties, and probably not even then.
And the organized gun lobby will hate it too, because most of their power comes from having the threat of gun prohibition to point to. But again the evidence is clear: we have the current gun laws -- ineffective as they are -- because we have neglected a right even more important to Americans than the right to bear arms: the right to be safely unarmed.
Naturally, many gun owners will resent paying premiums, because they resent assuming responsibility for risks that, so far, we've dumped on everyone else. So be it. It is only by assuming our responsibilities that we preserve our rights. Some will note that the Second Amendment doesn't include "well-insured." But, just as the press needs insurance against libel suits to exercise the First Amendment, we must assume responsibility for the risks that firearms present to society.
The problem is real, even such prohibitionist strategies are doomed to fail, even if passed. Sadly, some pro-gun groups have already revved up their own mindless propaganda, blaming Springfield on liberals, TV, Dr. Spock, "bad seeds," you name it -- anything but the easy access to guns that made massacres like Springfield so quick, so easy, and so likely.
This won't work instantly -- but it will work, because it breaks the deadlock about guns and how to keep them away from people who shouldn't have them, without stomping on the rights of the rest of us. Thus it changes the dynamics of this issue and ends the lethal deadlock over guns.
It's time for everyone, people seeking safety from guns and law-abiding gun owners alike, to work together to fight firearms in the wrong hands, and it's time to fight with FIRE: Firearm Insurance, Required Everywhere.
John Gear is a Vancouver business consultant who specializes in systems approaches to solving problems.