Automobiles and Guns (and Insurance and Lawyers)

By Gerard Gilliland

Automobiles and guns affect approximately the same number of people: 264 million cars with 35,485 crash related deaths per year and 310 million guns with 33,636 firearm related deaths per year. The automobile deaths have been decreasing because of safer cars and roadways, buckle-up laws, and decreased driving under the influence. Gun deaths could decrease with the use of gun locks and not carrying under the influence. A lot of people don't have cars and some people have more than one car. A lot of people don't have guns and some people have more than one gun.

Continuing our comparison, all the gun laws are already written and have passed the courts. (The problem is they are called automobile laws not gun laws.) All we need to do is take all the automobile laws and search for "automobile" with replace it with "gun". We now have all the gun laws necessary. DUIs (Driving Under the Influence) will become CUIs (Carry Under the Influence) and include the same list of drugs.

Attempts to address gun violence have included restricting firearms purchases by youths and other "at-risk" populations, setting waiting periods, requiring background checks, establishing gun "buy-back" programs, tougher law enforcement, and education.

But all of these attempts are missing two important players: Insurance and Lawyers. We need to pass one law: "Gun insurance is required for all gun owners." It needs two provisions: It is illegal to purchase guns or ammunition for a third-party and you must show proof of insurance to purchase. The insurance industry will ask the tough questions and require your list of guns complete with type and serial number. Then the insurance industry will lobby for the laws that look like the current automobile laws. Who is stronger: The lawyers and insurance lobby or the automobile industry? The automobile industry certainly doesn't want all the automobile laws passed! They just want to sell cars. Could you imagine the automobile industry with no registration, licensing, insurance, or laws (no stop signs, no speed limits)? It would be the wild west. Who is stronger: The lawyers and insurance lobby or the National Rifle Association (NRA)? The gun manufacturers don't want any gun laws passed! Unlike automobiles, with guns you don't have to imagine the chaos. You can see it now with no registration, licensing, insurance, or enforceable laws. It is the wild west. But insurance does not affect the second amendment. You still have the right to bear arms. (It's just going to be more expensive.)

Give the insurance lobby a couple of years and they will have licensing and registration laws passed. So now guns require a license, insurance, registration. You can't drive / carry without insurance. You can't drive / carry without a license. You can't drive / carry an unregistered car / gun.

But one in eight motorists don't have car insurance. The cost is born by those that do and they typically have uninsured motorist coverage. That will be true of uninsured gun carriers as well. But when you have to show proof of insurance and a carrier license to purchase ammunition you are going to have a lot of gun carriers signing up. You can call it gun insurance but it is really "Gun Victim Compensation Financing" just as you could call car insurance "Automobile Victim Compensation Financing." Currently gun victims are not compensated. Two thirds of gun victims are suicides but gun insurance won't pay out on suicides or accidental self-inflicted deaths. You never want a mentally unstable person thinking "I am worth more dead than alive." Here the family has to look at the true cost of gun ownership and availability.

If you have a "Car" you need a "Driver" license. If you drive an "18-wheeler" you need a special "Commercial Driver" license. If you have a "Shotgun" or "Rifle" you need a "Hunter" license. If you have a "Hand Gun" you need a "Gunner" license. If you carry an "AR-15" you need a special "Assaulter" license. If you buy a car / gun at a dealer / gun show you get a temporary sticker that expires in 60 days. The seller has to fill out the paper and send it to the state. If you buy a car / gun from a private individual they sign the back of the title over to you and mail it in to register it. You have to register with the state and show proof of insurance. You are responsible for your gun. Even if it its stolen. Gun Theft insurance anyone?

Those that are caught driving / carrying without a license are fined and banned from driving / carrying for 1 year. If you are in a car / gun accident, insurance pays the damages. Young men pay the most for car / gun insurance.

Criminals drive / carry guns -- the laws don't stop a criminal from driving / carrying but they make it more difficult. The criminal won't do anything to draw attention to his driving / carrying. It's not the criminals that cause the majority of automobile / gun deaths - it's the average citizen and alcohol or drugs. But nothing here says that only criminals will have guns. With automobiles as with guns, you can drive / carry as many as you want (or can afford).

You obey the automobile / gun laws - or if you don't and get caught you pay a fine. You have to take a driver / carrier test. You have to renew your carrier license every 5 years. You get the "opportunity" to go down to the Carrier License Bureau and stand in line for 4 hours. It can be in the same address as the Driver License Bureau and maybe you can get them both at the same time. While you are there you can get your voter ID. (If privacy were not a concern you could get one card with three boxes: Driver, Carrier, and Voter.) Will you need to surrender your Carrier license along with your Driver license and Voter ID if you move to another state? Probably. I expect your Carrier insurance will cross over state lines if your insurer is active in both states, but the rates might change.

But automobiles are public and guns are private. No, guns are private until they harm someone. Then they are very public. And that is occurring more than 30,000 times a year. But guns are protecting your freedom. No, when people fear going out because of guns they have lost their freedom. But the second amendment protects us from out-of control government as much as from foreign attack. OK, the insurance industry doesn't care why you carry; just that you make your payments. And although the initial registration is with the insurance industry they will want to share their database to protect their investment. But registration will lead to confiscation. No, the insurance industry wouldn't want their revenue stream to dry up.

Gun owners should have to pay the true cost of gun ownership. In addition to the "Gun Victim Compensation Financing" (aka Gun Insurance mentioned above) a tax dedicated to reducing gun violence should be on every box of ammunition just like the cigarette tax dedicated to reducing cancer is on every pack of cigarettes. Maybe the Surgeon General could put a note on every box "Warning: Bullets Kill People." But this is like a poll tax. No, you can apply the gun portion of insurance you paid (limited to one gun) and the tax you paid (limited to one box of ammunition) as a credit on your form 1040 (provided you fill out another form).

I can see it now. Progressive Insurance will have an upper hand -- Flo already has a "Price gun." GEICO and Allstate will offer multi-gun discounts. Popular TV ads will be with an ambulance chaser. "If you feel you have been damaged by ..." Or "Do you have uninsured carrier insurance?" The price of insurance should reflect the number of deaths plus injuries for each type of gun divided by the number of guns of that type. Handguns cause the most deaths and most injuries but are also the most common type of gun. Shotguns cause the fewest deaths and injuries and should be the lowest cost insurance. The price of an AR-15 will drop from its current $1500 back to $899. And now $600 every year will go toward paying for the AR-15 insurance. It's the American way.

Explain that buy-back program to me again -- it's starting to sound pretty good.

How do you move the U.S. to change the status quo? Send this paper or your summary of it to your insurance agent or company. Tell them gun insurance does not discriminate any more than automobile insurance. Just the people that have the cars / guns will need to buy it. Ask them if they want this to happen. I think they will say "yes." The agents I've talked to like the idea but they can't publish this paper on their site. They know they are indirectly paying a lot of the damages but there is no income from this source to offset the costs. And they know that spreading the losses across all customers is not right. Have the agents ask headquarters for a feasibility study. The insurance industry will do a cost analysis* (between $2.8 and $46 billion / year), publish a study, and draft a law.

Many sites now claim there are more guns than US citizens. (google: number of guns in US). Taking $2.8 billion (emergency room costs) divided by 327 million guns equals $8.56 per gun. $46 billion (hospitalization, rehabilitation, repeat admissions, and lost work) divided by 327 million guns equals $141 per gun. So $10 a gun per year average insurance would be minimum. $150 per gun per year would be realistic. If you want some perspective, compare that with your automobile insurance.

So, how does it work? The hospital sends a bill to the "Gun Insurance Pool." The police force associates a serial number with the victim(s) and sends it to the same insurance pool. Remember, 2/3 of the victims have the gun lying right next to them. For those that have an associated serial number, if it is found in the insurance database, the pool is restored by the insurance company that it is tied to. If it is not found, each company adds their percentage of the total database. The companies will offer rate deductions for locked guns, and training. The gun owner can affect their rate by choosing smaller or larger deductibles. That deductible is the amount the owner is charged if the gun is traced to them. The surviving victim will have hospitalization, rehabilitation, repeat admissions, and lost work covered. The victims that die will have their hospital bills covered and the non-suicide victims will have some portion of their lost wages dispersed.

I don't believe congress can solve guns. The country is so divided that neither side can win. In fact, both sides feel like they are losing. There will always be automobile / gun injuries and deaths. However, with gun insurance, I do believe injuries and deaths and their associated personal, health, and financial costs will decrease. And gun laws will exist in the same time and space as the second amendment. Insurance companies are private for-profit companies that respond to customers not lobbyists. The common thread: Congress can say, "This will provide needed funding without affecting our budget."


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10Feb2013 Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
16Feb2013 Add discussion on suicides
18Mar2013 Add ammunition tax
02Oct2015 Add insurance feasibility study and poll tax response
19Feb2018 Expand on changing the status quo. Add So, how does it work?
21Feb2018 Add congress can't solve guns
* Faiz Gani, The Price of Gun Violence, Health Affairs Blog, November 2, 2017. https://www.healthaffairs.org/do/10.1377/hblog20171031.874550/full/ Copyright 2017 Health Affairs by Project HOPE -- The People-to-People Health Foundation, Inc.
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