Modest Proposal: Mandatory Firearm Liability Insurance?

In the wake of these tragic mass murders, firearm advocates, reacting to calls for gun bans, point out that lots of things kill people. Cars, for example, kill lots of people.

We mandate liability insurance for cars. Why not for firearms? Bring market forces to bear on this issue. More firearms make things safer? Insurance rates will go down (if true).

Anyway, what I envision is a requirement that a firearm owner obtain liability insurance that covers injuries caused by that particular firearm. (Runs with the weapon – provides an incentive for people to secure the weapon in a way that ensures, for example, kids don’t have access to the weapon.) I would also envision a policy surcharge used to subsidize coverage for uninsured losses, treatment of mental illness, enforcement of existing regulations, and safety education efforts.

Firearm advocates promote guns as critical for liberty and personal safety. Seems like the price of an insurance policy is a small price to pay for life and liberty. If, on the other hand, your attachment to your guns is more of a cultural affectation, the cost may make you re-evaluate your priorities.

It won’t happen, but it struck me as a compromise position that avoids confiscating weapons on the one hand or continuing, on the other hand, to sit on our hands while mass murderers with firearms gun down the innocent as we idly wonder why this keeps happening to us.


  1. Carlito Brigante says

    An interesting proposal and very unique.

    It would be a bit unusual in that it would cover negligent and intentional acts (shooting and killing or wounding.) But it would be a way to compensate the vicitims of firearm violence and provide incentive to properly secure firearms.

    Very interesing and good idea.

    • says

      I guess I’d envision an individual liability cap – either through policy limits or statutorily with remaining damages paid out of a state run fund a la the Med Mal statute.

      • Carlito Brigante says

        I would not wish to see a state fund. I would like to see the gun owners and insurers suck on the entire damages. I would not wish to see the losses socialized when they are the result of actions that have no social utlitity.

  2. Stuart Swenson says

    People can insist on their personal right to own weapons or engage in behavior that can end in terrific and terrible social costs. Maybe they need to think a little more deeply about what that means. Your insurance policy idea is a good one that could be applied to other circumstances. For example, if someone wants to ride a motorcycle without a helmet, fine. Just require insurance that will cover the cost of the extensive hospitalization, rehabilitation, therapy and the required nursing home care for the rest of one’s life. Add to that the costs for providing for one’s family during those years. Insurance would be a better alternative than Medicaid.

  3. Carlito Brigante says


    Some states do require helmetless riders to purchase some amount of medical insurance, around $50,000 or so. That would cover many ED encounters, but not much more.

    • Stuart Swenson says

      Most people do not understand the catastrophe of traumatic brain injury and its financial and social impact. $50,000 can be eaten up on the first day. Meanwhile people want their right to drive without a helmet. The same story applies to shootings. On TV, someone gets shot and it all goes away magically, like shooting is away to cleanly solve problems. The messiness just starts. Folks need to know that these problems are huge and complex. Insurance is one way to introduce people to that fact.

      • says

        Can’t this same thought be applied to food, drink, and tobacco? Make the choice, but then take on the cost of the decisions? Make people with a body mass index above 30 purchase their own insurance? As a means of introducing people to the fact of obesity, smoking, drinking, and the attendant health risks?

        Oh wait- we’re socializing those decisions. Eat up, get teh diabetes, smoke ’em if you got ’em, and society eats the costs.

        Or, oh wait- that’s not humane, that labels people unfairly, etc, &c.

        • Jason says

          As someone with a BMI that has gotten over 30 due to lack of exercise (though I’m making progress in the right direction now), I’m totally on board with my company having a higher co-pay for my insurance, as long as we do the same for smokers.

          Smoking is a choice. Obesity is a choice. We need to have real costs associated with these choices. I DO think it is unfair for my coworkers to pay more for my bad decisions.

  4. PeterW says

    I don’t think that the liability insurance idea would do much good.

    For insurance to kick in, there has to be legal liability in the first place. If someone breaks into your house, steals your gun, and uses it to commit a crime, the gun owner generally has no liability. Most guns used in crimes are stolen, often from police. The columbine killers bought their guns at a gun show; the killer in this most recent case took the guns from his house. Apparently they belonged to his mother, but of course he shot and killed her.

    Mandatory insurance for cars was instituted because there were a lot of situations in which negligent drivers caused accidents for which they were not insured and they couldn’t afford to pay for the victim’s injuries out of pocket. I don’t think that there are anything like the number of cases involving uninsured gunowners and negligent shootings. In any event, I don’t see how this would have much of an effect on cases like this one.

    @ Stuart: the power to place high costs on behaviors you, personally, do not like is a dangerous slippery slope. It leads to idea like red meat insurance or lack-of-exercise insurance.

    In reality, of course, the total monetary risk of motorcycle riding is *already* reflected in the premiums paid by motorcycle riders. And while it is more dangerous to ride a motorcycle without a helmet than with one, there are a lot of seriously injured motorcycle riders who were wearing helmets – helmets aren’t magical devices that protect one from all harm. (And of course if you don’t survive because you weren’t wearing a helmet, you may have much lower medical bills than if you did).

    • says

      You could write a law that imposed strict liability for injuries caused by a weapon you owned; perhaps capped at the mandatory level of insurance.

      If injuries from firearms are less common than injuries from cars would make the loss easier to insure against, I would guess.

    • Carlito Brigante says

      As Doug states, and I m sure was assumed without stating so, the liability would be strict. Gun owning would be considered an unltrahazardous activity, such as blasting or transporting nuclear waste.

      As far as motorcylce insurance rates, the total monetary risk is not contained in the premiums. Nor are they contained in auto premiums. The risks of physical injuries cannot be compensated by the medical payment benefits. In an extensive medical injury case, the losses fall to the negligence system, the private healthcare insurance, Medicaid, or are internalized.

      Helmets are the single most effective safety devices for motorcycles. Recent data demonstrates that they prevented 37% of rider deaths and 41% of passenger deaths.

      • PeterW says

        Automobile insurance – the example used in the OP – is not based on strict liability; that’s something very different.

        Mandatory gun-owner liability insurance would only be barely possible politically (and, really, I’m skeptical) by an analogy to automobile insurance. But moving away from that to discuss strict liability is as realistic as simply proposing to ban guns – it is a complete non-starter. Gun owners are simply not going to say, “Oh, don’t ban my guns, but I have no problem being held strictly liable for whatever someone who steals my gun does with it.”

        And, like it or not (and I don’t), at present gun owners have all of the political power.

        Re: helmets – I don’t doubt their safety effects; I would be fine with simply requiring motorcyclists to wear them. What I’m not fine with is the idea that if we can identify *any* behavior that has a chance of increasing the cost to society under any set of circumstances, we have the power to put that cost on the people engaging in the activity. At some point, we do aggregate risks, and we should: I don’t think that disaggregating certain disfavored risks (meat eating or not using helmets) is good policy.

        Brief googling suggested that the cost different for treating motorcyclists injured with and without a helmet was about 20%, or $6,000. I think insurance is adequate to cover that difference. By far the worst outcome for not wearing a helmet is that non-helmeted riders die more often…but that cost won’t be captured by an insurance scheme since dying is cheaper than a broken leg.

        • says

          I think a strict liability regime is defensible. You want to own the thing to protect your life and liberty? Keep track of the damn thing. Maybe an exception if you report it stolen promptly enough.

          But, if you want theories of “fault” then it’s easy enough to come up with those. Negligent entrustment of a firearm to another. Negligently failing to secure your firearm such that someone you know nothing about was able to gain access to it. Negligently leaving the firearm in a place where a child can get to it.

          It’s a tool designed to kill other people. You don’t just “lose” it, and if it gets stolen, it better have gotten stolen after a pretty significant effort to get through your security measures.

        • Carlito Brigante says

          I understand the insurance models. But only strict liability would transfer the risk. As far as your second point, the gun lobby is politically insurmountable. I never saw Doug’s proposal as anything more than a thought experiment. I never see gun control proposals as anything but DOA in the house, senate and most state legisalatures.

          I strongly believe in identyfing risk,, quantifying it, and placing it closest to the actors incuring the risk. That is the most efficienct econmic model and allows for more accurate transferance of the risk. And relative to not wearing motorcycle helmets, an easily quantifiable risk with no social utility except letting the wind whistle in your ears, it is conduct that begs for non-aggregation and risk individualization.

          Your final point about the cost of treating motorcyle injury does not address the long term costs of the unhelmeted riders that do survive a low speed that would only scratch a helmet. And dying is not cheaper than a broken leg. You are ignoring the economic activity that a person generates in her lifetime.

  5. John Doe says

    I’m pretty pro-gun, but even I know that unless we have serious changes on all fronts, these things aren’t going to stop. Changes from our past culture, made up of morals, beliefs, and actions, has changed dramatically. As a non-religious, social liberal but fiscal conservative, I see individual, narcissistic greed taking over the country. I had some poor grand parents, and they did what they needed to advance in life. However, too many poor people today demand an upper middle class lifestyle, and they don’t want to be told they need to do this or that. They just want government to cut them a check so they can have everything “everyone else has.” Then you have people in the middle and upper middle classes demanding for their cut. Then you have the very wealthy who also want their cut. This attitude is causing many problems, causing each individual to believe they are “owed” something, and when they don’t get that, I think some of them lose it.

    We close mental hospitals, but pass 1-2% sales taxes to fund billion dollar stadiums for billionaire business owners so they can run their business and pay out hundreds of millions in payroll to a small group of people. What kind of logic is this? We have too many people who thinks some kids can be saved. We need to come to a reality that some special ed types just can’t be saved, and many could easily flip and end up doing some horrific things. Instead of shoving them into public education facilities, we should have special facilities and asses these people from a different angle.

    We need to seriously think about gun control, the correct balance between allowing the law-abiding the protection they deserve which also helps prevent these mass shootings. Some ideas would be to only allow one semi-auto rifle per person, limiting magazine capacity to ten rounds, etc.. However, there are literally thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands of semi-auto, magazine feed rifles out there. Many are very costly, and if we can bailout billionaires and millionaires or pay out good money for “clunkers,” then let the government buy back these rifles. Many AR rifles were purchased in the $800-$1,500 range. They would have to ban these rifles, no more can be made or imported, then offer $2,000, maybe even $3,000 to get people to turn in these rifles. I would oppose any ban on semi-auto handguns, lever action rifles, bolt action rifles, pump action rifles/shotguns, semi-auto shotguns, etc.. Police can’t protect us, and law-abiding citizens need the ability to protect themselves. A lot of pro-gun folks just don’t trust the government to be there when they need them most. These semi-auto rifles do offer a lot in terms of personal protection, home defense. However, many people could easily get just as much protection from a lever action .357.

    Another factor is that we are soft on gun crime, and this is another reason the law-abiding want these sorts of weapons. Again, it goes back to priorities. Here in Indy, we spend over a billion dollars for sports facilities for billionaires, but have an overcrowded jail system. Even at the state level, there are numerous dangerous people out and about that have very long, and shocking, criminal histories. Don’t worry though, instead of building more cages for these dangerous people, we will spend a billion dollars on a silly fixed rail train so rich suburbanites from Hamilton Co. can play on their iPhones while getting a ride to work in downtown Indy.

    • PeterW says

      I’d rather spend a billion dollars on rails than a billion dollars on jails. (I should make a bumper sticker). Although, realistically, I don’t want to spend a billion dollars on either.

      While I would be in favor of your modest gun proposals (or almost any similar proposal, as long as it recognizes that there are already 300 million non-military firearms present in the US and doesn’t pretend that they don’t exist), I think that gun control has become another third rail of politics. Unfortunately, this means we need to leave it lie for, probably, a generation.

      Not doing so means either a permanent republican majority, or at least a permanent conservative majority, with the effect that *all other non-conservative ideas* are DOA.

      • Carlito Brigante says

        I would buy such a bumper sticker. I think you are correct, guns are now a third rail. But when the cost of any third rail becomes unsustainable, politicians do bat at them.

        Social Security and Medicare are expensive entitlement programs, although Social Security is rather meagre relative to most developed countries. And Medicare is extremely expensive because American healthcare costs are exorbitant. But they are finding their way to the table, for ill considered butchery, not proper trimming.

        But looking at gun deaths, I do not believe that the economic costs are anywhere close enough to create political power. The social and emotional costs are horrendous. This last event is sickening. What the Fuck (I use this word rarely) kind of a country tolerates a virtually undregulated firearms ownership scheme where anyone can acquire masive firepower.

        We are killing each other in churches, schools, and now the new temples, shopping malls.

        Many Americans are outraged by the Japanese slaughter of dolphins and whales (as am I.) But we tolerate a system where slaughter of our children, coworkers and friends is not uncommon.

        But at the end of the day, until the gun control forces can come close to matching the lobbying power and voting mass of the gun lobby, And all that takes money. If the cost of gun violence could be counted and sent in one check to the gun lobby, we might get some movement.

        You are also likely correct, it may be a generation or two before gun-limitng legislation can be considered. Perhaps the different demographics of America in 2070 or 2080 will allow the issue to be addressed.

    • Nate Williams says

      Time out on your proposed treatment of the “special ed types”. Over the last 45 years, our society has made tremendous strides in the treatment of those with mental illness and mental retardation. What happened in Connecticut was a horrible, horrible tragedy. But it had nothing to do with mainstreaming. Neither would the problem be resolved by locking up all “special ed types”. And we have not yet even touched on the issue of humanity.

    • JamesD says

      Great commentary!! You and I would get along like a house on fire! I am an independent moderate conservative, but tend to lean slightly to the left on social issues, like mental health and making sure we (as a society) take care of individuals who can not genuinely do it for themselves.

      I am a competetive marksman, avid hunter and have owned guns my entire life (since the age of 8). I currently keep seven rifles and four hand guns and they are kept in a very secure storage container; I am the only person in the house that can access the firearms and ammunition. The only semi-auto rifle I own is a milsurp that was manufactured in 1943 and only holds eight rounds at a time; I also own one semi-auto handgun, but do not use magazines that hold more than ten rounds. I can see absolutely no legitimate reason for a civilian to own an AR-15. That is stricly my opinion, but the firearms industry had marketed these style of rifles very agressively over the last 10 years or so, which has made them wildly popular.

      This country, in my humble opinion, needs to do some serious soul-searching with regard to issues like gun control, mental health and the pervasive violence that exists in our culture (movies, TV, video games, music, etc.)!

  6. says

    As a gun owner, I really like this idea, Doug. If I can’t defend my guns from being stolen, I should be liable for the damages that come from them.

    Free-market types should totally be on board with this, and they usually overlap with gun owners by a good margin, so why wouldn’t this be possible?

      • Carlito Brigante says

        Too truculent, Doug. But too true.

        I think that nearly all Americans are “free market types.” I can count on one hand the socialists I know. It is just that they like lots of free stuff.

        I think that this idea you have is worthy of some op-eds. This concept tasks the gun lobby with responding with some credible arguments. Just like how we cannot regulate high-fructose corn syrup or 64 ounce Super Blubber burgers and they will sound like advocates for letting the fat, lazy, uneducated wastrels mooch off of society rather than manning up, taking responsibility and paying your own way in the world. Or something like that. It sounded better inside my head, anyway.

  7. Ray W. says

    Wish I was following this last week as the idea occurred to me also as an alternative to cumbersome laws. I am in the casualty claims business and my days are filled with degrees of negligence and their value. With strict liability the gun owner has the duty and must “defend their gun.” The more likely a type of gun is used in crime, the hire the damages cap, thus the higher the insurance. It would make that .223 Bushmaster a very expensive “toy” for plunking cans.

  8. Mary says

    Would there be ways for people to get around having the insurance, though? Or just not buy it? What then? If it’s criminals we’re talking about, why would they care if it’s insured or not?

    • Carlito Brigante says

      It is assumed that many criminal;s would not purchase the insurance. Some who purchased their firearms legally and then used them to commit crimes would have the losses thay cause would be insured.

      But the concern is not primarily the criminal. The “insurance” or owernship fee covers all losses, of any kind, however caused, by whomever. If a crook steals you fiream, robs a convenience store and kills a clerk, the clerk’s family is compensated from the original gun owner’s insurance, or ownership fee. Since a crook was able to steal it from you, you did not secure it properly. And the clerk would be compensated for your failure to secure the weapon. And the robber gets LWOP’d.

      • says

        In turn the legal gun owner will find their insurance becomes MUCH higher if they permit their gun to be used for something like this, causing a cost/benefit decision to be made.

        In theory, hunting rifles would be much cheaper to insure as they would be used in less crimes.

        • Carlito Brigante says

          Jason, absolutely correct. AR-15 insurance would be costly and .22 Ruger rifle would be like PL and PD. (Using the colloquialims)

  9. JamesD says

    As a responsible and law-abiding gun owner, hunter and ammunition hand loader, I do not think this is a bad idea at all. Many gun-rights advocates would probably want to choke me at the mere suggestion, but I can live with that possibility.

    I don’t agree with Doug when he suggests that it will not (or could not) happen. It certainly could! But, any proposal would need to be fair and equitable, not an attempt to infringe on a persons rights or to make gun ownership too expensive for the average Joe/Jane.

    I am no expert, but I do know the insurance industry calculates rates based on risk. So, if I want to own a Lamborghini or Corvette, it will cost me more to insure than a Ford Focus (no offense directed at Focus owners). Similarly, if I want to own a Stag Arms Model 3G (AR-15) it’s gonna cost me more to insure than a M1 Garand.

    Fairness and affordability would need to be the pinnacle objectives in order to win support for an official proposal like this!

  10. L Cavendish says

    As long as price is reasonable…sure…but see insurance companies and lawyers salivating already.
    I live in Florida and it can be heck trying to get home insurance (hurricanes). Insurance companies should NOT be allowed to not insure in certain states…all or none… .
    Why should I pay premiums to rebuild all the homes that flood year after year along the Mississippi river and then have company cancel me with NO reason (no claims)…or exit state because they are afraid of large payouts…after they have taken my premiums year after year.

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