Now that Illinois has become the 50th state to allow citizens to carry guns hidden under their clothing, it is a good time to look at how the general public feels about being exposed to them. Some people do believe that guns do make us safer, but a lot of people are not comfortable knowing that anyone around them may be armed. The risk from criminals with illegal guns is bad enough, but a shootout in a public place is much scarier. Gun proponents claim that "an armed society is a polite society;" but who wants to be polite because they're terrified and while many people do react to fear by behaving with discretion, it's the dangerous ones who may become far less "polite."
Gun websites such as the Violence Policy Center which report on the shootings by permit holders only catch the tip of an iceberg, but some of the stories are horrifying. For example, in September 2012, a concealed permit holder in Minnesota was told he was being fired. He pulled out a handgun he was carrying at work and killed five co-workers, a UPS delivery man and himself. This was two months before Newtown so it barely made the national news. And, of course, George Zimmerman has a permit for his gun. In another Florida case, alleged gunman and concealed handgun permit holder Michael Dunn fired several shots into an SUV occupied by several people, killing one, apparently because their music was too loud. He claims he thought he saw a shotgun, but the police found no weapon. He faces charges of murder.
The normal way in our society that we deal with dangerous activities that affect the public is to require insurance. Having this requirement has a number of benefits: it provides for victims, it allows insurance companies to press for safety with rates and other means, and it creates a sense of responsibility for the insured.
Since the tragedy at Newtown CT, nine states and the District of Columbia have considered requiring insurance for gun owners in general. None of these measures have been adopted so far. I believe that a broad form of insurance that protects all shooting victims will be a part of the solution to the gun violence problem and write about that on my own blog. But there are problems such as enforcing an insurance mandate for illegal guns or for legal ones in the face of opposition to gun registration. There are workable solutions to these problems, but it will take time to develop suitable legislation.
For holders of permits to carry weapons in public, it is much simpler. Permit holders are already registered with state government agencies; there is no need for an additional registration system. They are generally responsible people who have already shown their willingness to cooperate with reasonable regulations. Insurers will find these people to be desirable customers. Most measures to deal with gun violence have to deal with the flood of illegal weapons that come from states with weak regulation of gun trafficking. But, states requiring insurance for permits can simply refuse to recognize permits from other states without insurance requirements or require proof of insurance in addition to such a permit.
Starting by requiring insurance for permit holders is not only easier to implement, but it will address quite a few additional dangers for guns carried in public that do not apply to guns kept for self-defense in the home:
- Citizens who do not want to be exposed to the dangers of guns have no choice to avoid them.
- People carrying guns often need to leave them in cars or other less protected places, encouraging theft and misuse.
- The new "Stand Your Ground" laws often prevent innocent citizens injured in incidents from receiving compensation in shooting incidents.
- Private property owners and businesses may be at legal risk from the guns brought by their visitors and customers.
- The "bad guy" in a situation may respond with additional violence perhaps turning a robbery into a murder.
The legislatures in most states have finished their legislative season or at least the part where legislation is initiated. We need to persuade legislators to introduce, support and enact legislation early in 2014. It should go a little bit farther than conventional liability insurance in several ways: It should pay injured persons without need to establish negligence; it should pay persons shot in an incident involving a covered person even if they are shot by someone else; and it should pay directly to injured persons if the person with the permit intentionally or criminally does the shooting. All of these extensions to liability insurance can be found in insurance for other activities and are not a barrier to adopting this coverage.
The need for this and other measures to deal with the dangers of even legal guns in public places is immediate and requires immediate action. The number of guns discovered at airport checkpoints has gone up by 30 percent in one year. Unless something in the water has caused an epidemic of forgetfulness, this means that the number of people actually carrying guns around is skyrocketing.
Follow Tom Harvey on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@GUNINSURBLOG