John Wasik on Liability Insurance for Firearms

John Wasik offers an intriguing proposal:

When you buy a car, your insurer underwrites the risk according to your age, driving/arrest/ticket record, type of car, amount of use and other factors. A teenage driver behind the wheel of a Porsche is going to pay a lot more than a 50-year-old house wife. A driver with DUI convictions may not get insurance at all. Like vehicles, you should be required to have a policy before you even applied for a gun permit.  Every seller would have to follow this rule before making a transaction.

This is where social economics goes beyond theory. Those most at risk to commit a gun crime would be known to the actuaries doing the research for insurers. They would be underwritten according to age, mental health, place of residence, credit/bankruptcy record and marital status. Keep in mind that insurance companies have mountains of data and know how to use it to price policies, or in industry parlance, to reduce the risk/loss ratio.

Who pays the least for gun insurance would be least likely to commit a crime with it. An 80-year-old married woman in Fort Lauderdale would get a great rate. A 20-year-old in inner-city Chicago wouldn’t be able to afford it. A 32-year-old man with a record of drunk driving and domestic violence would have a similar problem.

What about “straw purchasing” where someone buys a gun or gives it to someone else? The original purchaser not only would be required to have insurance, but would be liable for any violence committed with the weapons they purchased. The insurance companies could keep these records, which they are really good at doing. [Emphasis added]

One concern is that this proposal might make firearms prohibitively expensive for certain kinds of people, e.g., men under the age of 35. Over time, underwriting would presumably grow more sophisticated, thus protecting the interests of responsible gun owners. Regardless, Wasik’s idea merits further discussion.

Reihan Salam — Reihan Salam is executive editor of National Review and a National Review Institute policy fellow.

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