SemiAuto Insurance

Latest Front in the Gun Debate Is Mandatory Insurance

Lawmakers in at least half a dozen states, including California, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York and Pennsylvania, have proposed legislation this year that would require gun owners to buy liability insurance — much as car owners are required to buy auto insurance. Doing so would give a financial incentive for safe behavior, they hope, as people with less dangerous weapons or safety locks could qualify for lower rates.

That idea has been kicking around the blogs for some time, and since the Sandy Hook shooting, the idea of mandatory firearm insurance seems to be gaining traction. The idea is that a fellow who takes Joe Biden’s advice and buys a Mossberg shotgun to defend his home would pay a lower rate than a fellow that might go postal with an AR-15. How it works out, of course, depends on the actuarial tables. Based on crime stats, it may turn out that a Raven semiauto costs more to insure than a much more expensive Smith & Wesson, because cheap handguns figure in so many crimes. But they may go strictly by firepower.

The insurance industry is wary of some of the proposals to require gun owners to buy liability coverage — and particularly of bills, like one that was filed in New York, that would require coverage for damages resulting not only from negligence but also from “willful acts.”

Robert P. Hartwig, the president of the Insurance Information Institute, said that insurance generally covered accidents and unintentional acts — not intentional or illegal ones. “Insurance will cover you if your home burns down in an electrical fire, but it will not cover you if you burn down your own house, and you cannot insure yourself for arson,” he said.

That sounds true, but drivers in urban areas often must carry coverage for uninsured people that are driving illegally — so insurance does sometimes cover illegal acts, just not illegal acts by the insured party. I suppose a parallel would be licensed firearm owners having to pay higher premiums if they live in an area where there is a lot of illegal gun violence.

… the problem with most liability insurance is that it promises coverage only in cases of a gun owner’s negligence, or an accidental shooting — and not if the gun owner shoots someone intentionally in self-defense. “A negligent act is covered by your liability policy, but if you intentionally shoot somebody, it could be excluded,” he said.

I would call intentionally shooting an innocent person in a misguided sense of self-defense a kind of negligence of training. Perhaps insurance companies would have to require that gun owners take courses that clearly define when they can and cannot shoot.

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