The Unspeakable Tragedy at Sandy Hook
Some Elder Humor

A Thoughtful, Important and Practical Gun Control Solution

The forces against any useful kind of gun control are huge and powerful. Solutions being discussed by our elected officials are the same old half measures – limit size of guns and magazines, etc.

Over this past horrible weekend TGB reader, John Gear, forwarded to me a proposal he made in an Op-Ed piece in 1999, for greater gun safety. It seems an excellent idea to me.

John is a second-career attorney in solo practice who focuses on serving consumers, elders and nonprofits in Salem, Oregon. He wrote this after a young man killed his parents and some classmates in Springfield, Oregon.

After each mass killing since then, he has tried to spread his idea in hopes of breaking the stalemate on guns in America caused by absolutists more interested in argument than in reducing carnage.

I know John's essay is kind of lengthy, but it is highly readable and I think you will find the idea to be workable and worthy of wide consideration. If you do, it would be good for you pass it along far and wide. You can link to it here or at this website.

We can fix the gun problem. We can make America safer without limiting our right to bear arms. And we can do it without an expensive, dangerous and futile "War on Guns."

To solve the real problem (keeping guns out of the wrong hands without restricting other people), we must use an idea that has worked to limit losses from many other hazards: insurance. That's right, insurance, the system of risk-management contracts that lets people take responsibility for choices they make that impose risks on others.

Insurance is what lets society accommodate technology. Without it, we would have few autos, airplanes, trains, steamships, microwaves, elevators, skyscrapers and little electricity because only the wealthiest could accept the liability involved.

When people are accountable for risks imposed on others, they act more responsibly. Insurance is what enables this accountability.

Rather than trying to limit access to or take guns away from law-abiding adults, we must instead insist that the adult responsible for a gun at any instant (maker, seller or buyer) have enough liability insurance to cover the harm that could result if that adult misuses it or lets it reach the wrong hands.

Who gets the insurance proceeds and for what? The state crime victims' compensation fund, whenever a crime involving guns is committed or a gun mishap occurs. The more victims, the bigger the payout. The greater the damage (from intimidation to multiple murders and permanent crippling), the greater the payout.

The insurers will also pay the fund for other claims such as when a minor commits suicide by gun or accidentally kills a playmate with Daddy's pistol. This will reduce such mishaps.

Insurance is very effective in getting people to adopt safe practices in return for lower premiums.

When a crime involving a gun occurs, the firm who insured it pays the claim. If the gun is not found or is uninsured (and there will still be many of these at first), then every fund will pay a pro-rated share of the damages based on the number of guns they insure. This will motivate insurance firms - and legitimate gun owners - to treat uninsured guns as poison instead of as an unavoidable byproduct of the Second Amendment.

Thus, insurance will unite the interests of all law-abiding citizens, gun owners and others against the real problem with guns: guns in the hands of criminals, the reckless, the untrained and juveniles.

Like other insurance, firearm insurance will be from a private firm or association, not the government. Owners, makers and dealers will likely self-insure forming large associations just as the early "automobilists" did. Any financially-sound group, such as the NRA, can follow state insurance commission rules and create a firearms insurance firm.

That's it. No mass or government registrations. Except for defining the rules, no government involvement at all. Each owner selects his or her insurance firm. By reaffirming the right to responsible gun ownership and driving uninsured guns out of the system, we use a proven, non-prohibitionist strategy for improving public safety.

Each insurance firm will devise a strategy for earning more revenue with fewer claims. Thus gun owners - informed by the actuaries - will choose for ourselves the controls we will tolerate and the corresponding premiums. (Rates will vary according to the gun we want to insure, our expertise and claims history.)

Some will want a cheaper policy that requires trigger locks whenever the gun is not in use; others will not. Hobbyists will find cheaper insurance by keeping their firearms in a safe at the range.

Newer, younger shooters and those who choose weapons that cause more claims will pay higher premiums. That way other owners with more training and claims-free history will pay less. (Insurance companies are expert at evaluating combined risks and dividing them up - in the form of premiums - with exquisite precision.)

Soon, the firms will emphasize cutting claims. That means promoting gun safety and fighting black market gun dealers which is where many criminals get guns. And every legitimate gun owner will have a persuasive reason – lower premiums -- to help in the fight.

We need to start discussing this now because it will take several years to enact. Gun-control advocates will hate this because it forsakes the failed prohibitionist approach. But the evidence is clear: there is virtually no chance that prohibiting guns can work without destroying our civil liberties, and probably not even then.

And the organized gun lobby will hate it too because most of their power comes from having the threat of gun prohibition to point to. But again the evidence is clear: we have the current gun laws - ineffective as they are - because we have neglected a right even more important to Americans than the right to bear arms: the right to be safely unarmed.

Naturally, many gun owners will resent paying premiums because they resent assuming responsibility for risks that, so far, we've dumped on everyone else. So be it. It is only by assuming our responsibilities that we preserve our rights.

Some will note that the Second Amendment doesn't include "well-insured." But just as the press needs insurance against libel suits to exercise the First Amendment, we must assume responsibility for the risks that firearms present to society.

The problem is real, even such prohibitionist strategies are doomed to fail, even if passed. Sadly, some pro-gun groups have already revved up their own mindless propaganda, blaming Springfield on liberals, TV, Dr. Spock, "bad seeds," you name it - anything but the easy access to guns that made massacres like Springfield so quick, so easy and so likely.

This won't work instantly but it will work because it breaks the deadlock about guns and how to keep them away from people who shouldn't have them without stomping on the rights of the rest of us. Thus it changes the dynamics of this issue and ends the lethal deadlock over guns.

It's time for everyone, people seeking safety from guns and law-abiding gun owners alike, to work together to fight firearms in the wrong hands, and it's time to fight with FIRE: Firearm Insurance, Required Everywhere.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Joyce Benedict: A Twist of Fate on Christmas Day


Gun insurance?! Does anyone think Adam Lanza, who murdered his mother to get at her guns, would have been deterred by lack of insurance? Nancy Lanza could have had several gun insurance policies for her legally obtained guns and she would be just as dead now.

I don’t think gun insurance, and yet another layer of government bureaucracy, will fix this problem. Mentally ill people and criminals don’t worry too much about bureaucracy.

The children may not be deterred by insurance,but it was Nancy Lanza who was supposedly the "responsible gun-owner", and she should therefore be responsible for keeping the guns out of the hands of her children. I think it's a great idea.

Interesting idea, and definitely worth consideration, particularly since no other solutions are being offered. It's easy to say that gun insurance would not have stopped Adam Lanza, but I think what such a program does is help create a culture of "responsibility" rather than "rights."

Ronni, there is a much bigger problem at hand. This promiscuous gun ownership issue. By restricting anything - makes people buy more! Tobacco, drugs, alcohol, firearms, gaaoline are examples. Put on a wall a sign: "wet paint - don't touch" and watch what happens.

Before we as a nation finally get weapons of all kinds under some form of management - larger populations will continue to be at risk. The very idea that one woman would have in her possession four weapons (one an assault rifle) is staggering. To top things off, she leaves them laying around the house with a 'slighty mentally disturbed' child. To me that is like leaving a can of lighter fluid sitting by the fireplace - instinct tells a 'normal person' something is not right.

So, what is not right about owning more that one, single weapon?

What you propose is allowing people to own weapons (guns) as long as they can get insurance. Leaving the insurance companies to decide who can have them, or not. I am certain there will be many questions about the same Second Amendment rights once the insurance companies interfere. Nope! won't work.

I think we have to go back to the intent of the amendment. Afterall, that's what law and lawyers jury. This amendment protects the right of the people to keep and bear arms (this is the word I doubt was in the original). I'd rather believe the intent was to allow one gun per. The amendment was adopted on December 15, 1791, along with the rest of the Bill of Rights and has been modified in the US Supreme Court more than once.

With an estimated 300 million legal and illegal gun owners out there - this is another one of those 'too big' to control issues.

Perhaps we, as a nation, can start now by controlling the licensing and issuance of ammunition?

Interesting. I don't think the insurance companies would want this -- and their interest would be required to make it work. They don't want the public animus they'd encounter for insuring assault rifles, etc...Why just today, the conglomerate that owns the maker of the Newtown weapon is selling that company off because they don't want to be associated with mass murder.

Great Idea!

I see some merit here, especially since the mark of a good compromise is when both sides are left unhappy. But the idea fails to address a number of points, not the least of which is how do you get people who already have guns to admit it, much less step up and pay for the privilege? And how do you convince them to pay disproportionately high premiums to cover damages caused by the uninsured? It doesn't address assault-style weapons, magazines, and ammunition, which no civilian needs or should be allowed to have. And how does anyone enforce trigger-lock regulations without going into every home to look for them?

I think such insurance might be useful after adequate controls are in place, not as the control itself.

Interesting idea worth consideration. Remember, one single thing is not going to fix our whole problem with violence. But making people responsible, and liable, for the harm their guns do could provide at least part of the solution.

Sorry, Ronni, this is one time I cannot agree with you. An insurance policy will not in any way deter a person with psychological problems and a gun! And you know as well as I do that guns are as eaily bought on the street as pot.

How many times have you heard of innocent people being killed by drunk drivers -- who probably had insurance. That didn't seem to help deter them from drinking and driving recklessly, did it?

Once the victim is dead, they are still just as dead with or without insurance.

I do see the points John Gear is making and it would be a help, but certainly would not stop the sale of automatic weapons, even if the insurance premium was higher. And I disagree with his implication that banning the sale of automatic weapons is infringing on our civil liberties. When the founders added the second amendment to the Constitution they could never envision a weapon that holds up to 90 rounds without reloading, or clips that can be inserted in seconds. The Constitution specified muskets, not the horrible weapons of war that the NRA thinks everyone should own. Therefore, if the amendment is to be taken literally, we can all own a musket and be ready if called on to join the militia.

The Founders opened a Pandora's box that conservative POTUS interpreted to mean the Second Amendment guaranteed the right to own a gun. But I do not think it unconstitutional to pass a law restricting dangerous weapons that are only used to kill humans.

I think the insurance industry would love his plan. Lots of built in customers for them. But it would not stop carnage, although it would change the gun culture and curtail the NRA's political clout.

I think it's a good addition, but not the solution to gun violence.

Bluntly, it won't work -- lack of insurance does not stop people from driving and it won't stop mentally disturbed people from obtaining and using firearms. We may be able to reduce the number of victims by banning ownership of semi- or automatic assault rifles and large magazines and ammunition, but requiring insurance and thinking that that would eliminate or reduce the problem is actually laughable.

I'm sorry, but either you have led a sheltered life or at least you have not been around mentally disturbed people at all. Rules and laws mean nothing to them, their impulse to react violently may be tempered by medication, but by definition they are mentally disturbed and do not think logically as a sane person would. Insurance would be the last of their worries.

We have been presented with an IDEA. Let's consider it, discuss it, before saying it will not be THE solution. Because there is no ONE solution.

People, we have to begin somewhere--at this very moment. There are two women in congress with IDEAS--Rep. Carolyn Maloney (NY) and Sen. Diane Feinstein (Calif.). Let us use our voices to learn about their bills that need our support.

To say that something good might come out of all this does not seem right. There’s nothing good about the horrific event that took place on Friday.

However, I must admit that all of the publicity regarding mental illness is long overdue in this country.

I don’t know a great deal regarding gun laws and how the sale of them if not stopped can be curtailed. I do know about mental illness and that it has been and will be with us forever.

Hoe about we just limit access to assault weapons and excessively large ammo clips? That will at least help limit the deaths. And register and train ALL gun owners in gun safety, including locking up guns and storing ammo separately. After all it does specify a "well regulated militia".

It won't stop the deaths, but might help slow them down.

It is an interesting idea---but sadly---I think it would take about 50 years to get it enforced.
I like the European way of handling guns. You must belong to a gun club and they keep your guns for you under lock and key. Again--this would take time--but it would eliminate the protest from those who only keep guns for hunting and target practice (which is the majority of the sane people with guns).

I personally doubt that the insurance for guns idea has a lot of merit.
Do you know where most people get their guns?
They are handed down, generation to generation. Most of them are OLD, but a well maintain and seldom used gun of any type will still function and kill whatever it is aimed at when the trigger is pulled.

Only one or two of the many guns I've owned were purchased new. There is nothing to reveal who has them on hand NOW. They all had serial numbers but those numbers are not written down anywhere or traceable back to the original or current owner.

To have guns insured, they, as with cars and trucks or any vehicle, need registration numbers kept on file. Do you really believe that we suspicious gun owners, who have NEVER trusted government control of anything when it comes to self defense, will voluntarily provide someone with serial numbers, model numbers, calibers and manufacturing dates related to our most treasured tools? And tools are what we are talking about here. They are viewed like a common pocket knife in my base culture. They are little more than a remote controlled heavy club used to subdue living food or hostile forces that threaten us.

All the rifles and pistols I own today have not seen the light of day in many years. I will not part with them so long as I have breath in this old body. They have more sentimental value to me than any other possession. There are countless, good memories attached to them. One needs to have been a hunter or bread winner for a family to understand such thinking.

There are many who want our military to have the most modern weapons available, and yet, those same folk think all we potential, domestic militia members need only muzzle loading muskets. That's ridiculous! If we ever needed to assemble and defend this country against invasion forces, we NEED the latest weaponry too.

I do believe that limiting access to certain kinds of ammunition may be one means of controlling the carnage but, come on people, making me sign a registration book when I purchase a 50 bullet box of .22 long rifle bullets contributes nothing to the effort. The bullets I have now are so old, I often doubt they will fire when I need them. BUT, I have them and I feel this strange sense of security here at home because I do. There are no children here to worry about and I have instructed the two women who live here how to load and discharge the pistols, rifle and shotguns. The weapons and ammunition are stored separately and none of them sit around already loaded unless we experience some neighborhood, criminal activity such as break-in and home invasions. At which point I will have something handy at all times.

Don't come to my home with evil in your mind. I have guns and know how to use them. More than that, I am willing to do so.

My guns are advanced hammers and perceived threats to life and property are nails to me. Have guns ... do not travel!

Would this, perhaps, be a part of the required health care insurance package?

I agree with Ronni that this should be considered. It could act as a deterrent for some less responsible types, but more importantly, there would be a fund to provide compensation to the families of victims. I just looked at gun death statistics for the very young and we kill more of our children than our soldiers!! Take a look - it's horrendous: Gun related death in America

Well, it may not be a perfect solution, but I think this is well thought out and a step in the right direction.

"Naturally, many gun owners will resent paying premiums because they resent assuming responsibility for risks that, so far, we've dumped on everyone else. So be it. It is only by assuming our responsibilities that we preserve our rights."

This is true. If people are not willing to assume responsibility on their own then what alternative are we left with? We have become far too flippant in this society with regard to personal responsibility for our behavior and it's time to correct that. If it takes a requirement to carry liability insurance to make that happen, so be it.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name and email address are required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)