When officer Eric Talley and nine others were killed just blocks from me on Monday, Colorado faced its seventh deadly mass shooting in 12 months. It was the nation’s 63rd deadly mass shooting this year. The grieving families will face not only an emotional burden but also a financial burden: medical bills, bereavement, and lost work time. Why should victims be the ones to pay?
Victims of car accidents were similarly powerless to collect from an at-fault party until the 1960s. The solution? Mandatory car insurance. States recognized that although citizens have compelling reasons for using motor vehicles, cars are hazardous, and large incidents cannot be paid back by a single person. This dilemma applies even more to guns, where a shooter often takes their own life.
I propose that Colorado should require liability insurance in order to purchase a firearm. This uses the power of private markets to identify who would be a legitimate and responsible gun owner.
Responsible gun owners, like my hunting grandparents or farming uncles, would pay low premiums. High-risk individuals, such as disgruntled young males, would face prohibitively high premiums. This would greatly reduce the number of guns in unstable hands and reduce the chance of mass shootings. A Cato Institute report suggested that mandatory gun insurance would not only be constitutional but highly preferable to alternative policies.
If anyone is able to predict who would misuse a gun, it is insurance companies. Underwriters have vast experience identifying risk factors and gathering information on individuals to sort out their riskiness.
Although initially creating the market would be hard, entrepreneurial companies would see an opportunity to win a new market while doing a social good. In fact, the NRA long offered liability insurance for highly-trained gun owners, which demonstrates that low-risk individuals will easily get policies.
As with auto liability or worker’s compensation, insurance is a great solution to reallocate risk when there is a gap between individual cost and the social cost. Firearm liability insurance would provide recourse to justice for shooting victims and their families. As with flood insurance or medical insurance, it would pool resources to support the unfortunate and undeserving victims of a tragedy.
Colorado should lead the charge for compulsory firearm insurance. Auto insurance started with a single state, Massachusetts, but has now been almost universally adopted. Calls for federal action have proven too contentious. But Colorado has shown leadership in state-level issues, and Colorado residents are ready for a change.
Admittedly, this is a radical solution, and new solutions always raise more questions than they answer. What will we do when guns are carried across state lines? Can we create such a market? Will it have unintended consequences? These questions deserve serious consideration, and this article is intended only to start that conversation.
Let’s forgo political battles over gun restrictions and let private markets handle the matter. I can’t think of a more American solution.