05/26/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Why Not Gun Insurance? An Invitation to the NRA

Bob Herbert's impassioned column in the NY Times this morning, "A Culture Soaked in Blood," reviews the insanity of the role of guns in our society. 100,000 people a year are shot, 30,000 die. Average that for ten years, it's a million people shot, 300,000 die. That's the same as 600 Boeing 747s full of 500 people blowing up. How can we as a society continue to tolerate this slaughter?

I have a partial solution to offer. One that people on both sides of the Second Amendment debate might find acceptable. One that the NRA might be able to endorse. And one that will have the mighty insurance industry jumping for joy.

When I first came up with this idea, I was working with Ralph Nader on a book, and he said that the idea made sense to him. I was also working with Vincent Bugliosi at the time (on a book to solve the drug problem in America) and Vince also thought the idea has merit.

It's a simple idea, and is modeled on the same concepts that give us car insurance. Guns, like cars, can cause injury. Therefore, everyone who drives a car is required to carry insurance against the possible damage that might be caused by the car. Even if the car is stolen, the damage it causes can be covered, with some exceptions if you leave your keys in the car, for instance.

So what would gun insurance look like? The states would require that anyone who owns a gun needs to insure it. If your gun is in a good gun safe, or not operable, your rates would be lower. If you had teenagers in your house and they had access to the guns, insurance would be higher. If you had a criminal record, your rates could be pretty steep. If you had trigger locks, you might get a discount. Get certified in gun use, maybe another discount. Register the forensics of your gun with the FBI, and you get another discount. It's your choice. Like cars, your zip code might have an effect on your rates, just as high accident rate areas for autos pay higher auto insurance.

What would the insurance cover? Gunshot wounds directly cost some $2 billion dollars a year, according to Herbert. So gun insurance would help with medical bills and funeral expenses. Wrongful death, loss of a supporting parent or partner, and damages to property would all be covered. Many gun owners would want to carry insurance against injury by uninsured gun owners. And I'll bet that a lot of those folks who don't own guns would want non-gun owner insurance against uninsured gun owners, if it was offered. Clearly, the opportunities for the insurance industry would be limited only by their imaginations.

Would gun insurance lower the national rate of injury and death from guns? Probably. If owners get a discount on their insurance if they lock up their guns and use trigger locks, that would certainly help. If the penalties for possessing a gun that isn't insured were stiff enough, that would help too. What kind of penalties? If your car is not insured and you get stopped, it gets towed. You get it back when you prove you have insurance. Same for your gun. Your uninsured gun is used in a crime? Penalty goes up. And you probably won't be able to get insurance.

What do you say, NRA members? Surely in the new spirit of President Obama, where we are all trying to solve long festering problems by using fresh thinking, hopefully some of you will agree that this is a healthy step toward responsible gun ownership.

Can we find some common ground here?