While America wept over the horrific massacre of 20 children and six educators in Newtown, Conn., last December, each of the nation's top five grossing films overflowed with unabashed gun violence and murder. Millions lined up with popcorn for the fantasy; countless more grieved for the reality.
Few can deny that, in recent years, the unalterable religious commandment "Thou shalt not kill" has become muddled, while images of murder and violence are standard fare for prime-time TV, advertisements, and video games, as if spiritual and moral values don't apply to entertainment. This double standard is a symptom, not a cause, of the cognitive dissonance prevailing in the American gun-violence debate.
Since that tragic day in Newtown, citizens from different walks of life and political persuasions have agreed that the time for action is now, and have united in the common desire to find workable ways to prevent gun violence while, at the same time, protecting our constitutional right to "bear arms."
One logical and proven approach, espoused by inventor and entrepreneur Wendell Brown and Nobel Prize laureate Woodrow W. Clark II, and currently proposed by legislators in at least six states, is to require liability insurance for guns, the same way we do for automobiles.
The purpose of auto insurance, which most Americans understand and participate in, is to protect both the insured and innocents on the road who might be harmed. That's why automobiles and motorcycles (which, like guns, have the potential for great harm), require proof of financial responsibility. So why isn't there a similar requirement for guns?
This is an effective paradigm that can be directly applied to gun ownership. In other words, to buy and/or register guns and ammunition, buyers would be required to show proof of insurance, or "financial responsibility," just as with their automobile. The same state insurance commissioners who manage automobile insurance would manage gun liability policies and regulations. Liability insurance connects the cost of potential harm with the cost of ownership, and enlists an already-successful, data-based industry model.
The insurance model provides:
1. Financial responsibility: The more potentially harmful the gun, the higher one's insurance rates. That's how it works with auto insurance -- the riskier the car, the higher the cost of the policy. If you want an AR-15, insurance on that weapon might reflect "higher risk" than a gun with less magazine capacity. If you have criminal convictions involving violence, then insurance will be tough, if not impossible, to get.
2. Improved safety: With increasing financial responsibility, gun-safety technology will improve, just as auto safety has improved, motivated by insurance companies and their research. Seat-belt technology was advanced by insurance companies in the 1960s to reduce deaths, and there is a similar alignment of motives with gun insurance to improve safety.
3. Responsible ownership: Gun owners who are responsible and take precautions with their guns can be rewarded with discounts. Those with questionable behavior, just as drivers with bad driving records, will have difficulty getting insurance. If you show proof that your gun is locked up safely, or have owned a gun for many years with no problems, or have attended safety courses, you get significant discounts for your responsible behavior, same as with an auto.
Ammunition purchases would also require proof of gun insurance, and premiums would reflect the number of bullets purchased, rewarding the bulk of responsible gun owners who don't accumulate massive stockpiles of ammunition.
Of course, some people will argue:
1. "Criminals won't participate in the system." Yet data from every state shows that requiring auto insurance (not to mention seat belts) has been extremely successful in compliance rates, reducing injuries and deaths, and moving the burden of related costs from the state to the private sector, a conservative model.
2. "No one should make us pay for the use of our guns." Funny, we never hear people say that about another "dangerous" item -- our autos. Arguments against responsible gun ownership have their roots in protecting the gun-makers' profits, not the public's safety. Furthermore, the price of guns and ammunition are artificially high due to liability lawsuits that gun and bullet manufacturers face. Liability insurance would help alleviate that problem. Can you imagine the skyrocketing cost of an average car if everyone who was injured by a car sued the car manufacturer for other drivers' bad acts? Just as in car accidents, when the owner's liability insurance activates, so with gun injuries, the gun insurance would activate.
3. "This is just another form of gun control aimed at eroding our constitutional rights." The reality is that courts are no more likely to allow the undermining of the Second Amendment than any other constitutional amendment. In fact, by requiring insurance -- and thus strengthening accountability and safety -- we can actually undergird our right to bear arms and weaken arguments for gun control.
Management and enforcement of insurance requirements would be handled by states and private industry, not the federal government -- just as with auto insurance. Thus, there's no "big government" argument here. And gun liability insurance would provide a fund for victims, paid for by the perpetrators of violent acts. Without liability, everyone, even six-year-old children, literally pays the price for others' violent acts.
By applying the same standard of financial responsibility from private industry to the issue of gun-violence prevention as we already do with our autos, freedom of ownership is protected, while ensuring that liability is accounted for. Every responsible gun owner's rights would remain intact, and legions of lives would be saved. Financial responsibility is in our nation's nature and heritage.
This is a viable solution that "insures" a safer future for us all.
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