Inaction on Gun Safety: Unacceptable and Unaffordable

This may come as a shock to many, but we all have been paying what is, for all practical purposes, a stealth tax to help cover the costs of America's gun violence. That is because the staggering cost of gun violence falls on all of us in the form of higher insurance premiums, greater healthcare expenses, more costs to the criminal justice system, lost productivity and more.

Gun violence causes approximately 30,000 deaths and 100,000 injuries in our country every year. In addition to the enormous human pain and suffering this creates, gun violence also costs our economy as much as $174 billion every year, according to the Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation. That is more than twice the annual amount of the infamous sequester cuts.

Of course there is no magic wand to wave that will end gun violence. But the American people have made it clear that they want to see something done about this scourge and that the National Rifle Association's (NRA) plan to put more guns in places like schools is certainly not the answer. In a recent Marist Poll, a mere five percent said they thought that laws covering the sale of firearms should be "less strict."

That is why I have proposed two common-sense gun safety bills, that in no way curb Second Amendment rights, but could have an impact on the terrible human and economic costs of the status quo.

One measure, the Gun Trafficking Prevention Act of 2013 (H.R. 452), which has bipartisan support, is aimed squarely at keeping guns out of the hands of the worst of the worst: drug cartels, gun traffickers, convicted felons, violent gangs, and domestic abusers. The bill would make firearms trafficking a federal crime and impose stronger penalties on "straw purchasers," those who buy guns for convicted felons and others who are prohibited from buying guns on their own. This legislation is strongly supported by law enforcement groups across the country and would at long last put some teeth in the federal trafficking laws. Unfortunately, the gun lobby is trying to weaken even this measure.

My other bill, the Firearm Risk Protection Act (H.R. 1369), would require gun owners, like car owners, to have liability insurance. As an economics professor at Cornell University, Robert Frank, recently pointed out, "(n)othing in the constitution grants people the right to expose others to serious risk without compensation. Insurance sellers are skillful at estimating the risks posed by drivers with specific characteristics, and we could expect them to be similarly skillful at assessing the risks posed by gun owners. Requiring liability insurance isn't a total solution to the problem of excessive risk, either for autos or for guns. But in both cases, it's a positive step."

Even the NRA promotes access to liability insurance coverage as a benefit of membership. As one NRA endorsed website boasts: "The NRA Endorsed Insurance Program offers me peace of mind." This is something I think we all deserve.

Neither of the bills I've introduced would impinge on Second Amendment rights. Instead both bills focus on known problems and offer reasonable solutions. In the wake of the recent wave of gun tragedies and the huge economic costs of gun violence, inaction on gun safety by Congress is not only unacceptable, it is unaffordable.