In the days before Christmas, I offered a proposal to put in place a legal system that would allow a family member, or an associate of a gun owner, to go to court and persuade a judge there was enough concern to warrant issuing a “temporary restraint order,” which would rescind his right to possess a gun. If an order was granted, the potentially dangerous gun owner would have his guns removed by police and his name put on the “no buy” list for a year. After that time, the judge could reevaluate the situation if there was a renewed complaint against him.
I chose a year because lot of gun violence is situational – people going through a divorce or the loss of a job, for instance. To have his guns returned sooner, the gun owner would have to show to the court he was not a danger, which would entail a mandatory psychiatric evaluation. That interview alone would be a boon to society. It would give a mental health professional a contact point to identify people on the edge, and get them some help before they go postal.
Since making that suggestion, like many Americans, I have been thinking about other ways we can make our country safer, given the constraints of the Second Amendment. This idea isn’t mine. I came across it in a Facebook comment to my “gun restraint” piece. The post was from my friend Allie McNeil, a writer, and deep thinker, whom I have followed for years on Twitter in her guise of@watergatesummer, which, incidentally, is the title of her latest book. I have no idea if this is Allie’s original idea, or if she came across it somewhere and recognized its genius. I do know I have been thinking about it ever since I first heard it.
Require all gun owners to carry liability insurance on every gun they own.
The most obvious benefit comes by way of compensation to victims. I know money can never make up for the damage a gun can do, but compensation is not an insignificant matter. Consider someone who is paralyzed, or left brain-damaged, or permanently disabled by a gun. That victim would be assured of having things like ramps, and nurses aids, and whatever other therapies he required, guaranteed for his lifetime. Currently, unless the locality has a “Victim Fund,” a shooting victim receives only the benefits his own medical insurance or Medicaid provides, and medical insurance does not include things like home modifications for a wheelchair, or hand controls for cars. The insurance companies wanting to participate in this new, no doubt lucrative market, could also be required to create a fund to take care of victims injured by uninsured guns, making sure anyone hurt by a gun has a recourse to whatever services they require.
Because money is always a great motivator, another benefit of insuring guns is that it would change the behavior of some less than vigilant gun owners. People who leave loaded guns in the bedside table might reconsider that habit, since they are on the hook for a sizable deductible if someone gets hold of their gun and hurts someone else. Insurance companies would no doubt give policy discounts for gun owners who buy trigger locks or gun safes. Premiums would reflect the gun owners’ risk factors, like arrest and psychiatric histories. The more guns you own, the more it will cost. In other words, the market, so loved by the Right, just might cause gun owners to amass fewer guns and to be more careful with the ones they own.
Finally, mandatory gun insurance would result in a legal way to get guns out of the hands of our least reliable and most dangerous gun owners. Honest citizens who want to hunt, or shoot competitively, or protect their home or business will comply with the law and buy insurance. Those with less honorable intentions will not. But police would be able to confiscate any gun they find that is uninsured. I’d like to make such confiscations permanent. Don’t step up and insure your gun? Lose it forever.
There is one more unintended benefit I can see happening if we require guns to be insured. The insurance companies will do a lot of the archiving of ballistic information we don’t allow police to do. Insurance companies would want ballistic signatures from every gun they insure. They would need it to verify, in the event a claim is filed, that it was indeed the gun they insure that caused the damage. While it is hardly a substitute for a national ballistics registry that would allow investigators to trace the gun that fired any bullet they recovered, police could subpoena ballistics information from insurance companies, helping in investigations and prosecutions, without ever having to build their own database.
So now we come to the sticking point. Is it constitutional? I know the NRA will say government cannot impinge on a right. It’s the same reason they use to oppose a national gun registry. But we know from the Supreme Court’s Affordable Care Act decision, that the Government can require citizens to buy insurance, don’t we? And we know Congress has restricted gun ownership before with the expired assault weapons ban, which was also upheld by the Court. And, need I remind you, a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion has been restricted so badly it’s on life support. My own state of Michigan has just passed a law that makes it illegal to offer an insurance policy that covers abortion in our state. If government can forbid insurance coverage on one constitutional right, why couldn’t government demand insurance coverage on a different constitutional right?
I don’t know if gun liability insurance would pass Supreme Court scrutiny. But shouldn’t ideas, like “Temporary Gun Restraint Orders” and “Gun Liability Insurance” and even a national ballistics registry be part of the national dialogue? Maybe you have some thoughts of your own about practical ways we can reduce gun violence? It seems to me, we need some fresh ideas, very badly.
You can read my previous op-ed about allowing families of distressed gun owners to apply for an order of temporary gun restraint, here: How To Separate Unstable People From Their Guns – A Practical Plan
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