Should gun owners be required to have liability insurance for misuse of their guns?

Law professor Nelson Lund, whom I thought was a friend of gun owners but I must have been mistaken, has an article in the New York Times suggesting that making gun owners buy insurance might be a solution to gun violence.  Do read the piece but with the following as background:

Most homeowners policies contain personal liability insurance against lawsuits for negligence not involving automobiles.  Thus, if you get sued for libel or for unintentionally bumping into someone on the sidewalk, the personal liability coverage in your homeowners will probably cover you. If you don’t own a home you can still get this with “renters’ insurance” which is a homeowners policy for people who don’t own a home.  It covers the contents of your rented house or apartment, and will usually include a personal liability provision.  The provision will also cover you if you shoot someone in lawful self defense and they, or their heirs, sue you for that.  You will also be covered if you accidentally shoot someone as a result of negligent gun handling (this sort of negligence may also be a crime, usually a misdemeanor, but it’s still negligence for insurance purposes). The thing to keep in mind however, it that this is insurance against civil liability only; there is no coverage in this or any other insurance policy that covers criminal liability [nor civil liability for an act that was intentional].

The amount of personal liability coverage is typically $100,000 and can usually be increased for an additional premium.  Most companies have a cap of from $300,000 to $500,000.  Once you reach the  cap with your primary company you can buy an umbrella policy from another company.  Umbrella policies can provide coverage into the millions.

These policies are not expensive.  A majority of Americans can afford them.  Moreover, most Americans already have this type of insurance.

The article by Professor Lund is silly because it is criminal behavior that is the problem, not people betting sued for negligence.  There is no such thing as insurance that criminals can buy that will provide benefits to their victims. [although victims can buy such coverage if they do so in advance of becoming a victim] No insurance company would find that to be a lucrative insurance market.  Most of the time when a criminal or his family sues a gun owner who has injured him in self defense, the plaintiff’s lawyers do not allege that the defender acted unlawfully, even if there is evidence that he did.*  This is for the simple reason that the personal liability provision in a homeowners policy does not cover liability for criminal acts.  The plaintiff’s lawyer is most concerned about having the deep pockets of the insurance company from which to collect any judgment obtained.

There is one small exception to this.  One may be able to buy insurance that will reimburse you for legal expenses in defending yourself if you are charged with a crime after a defensive use of your gun.  But even these policies do not provide legal representation nor any money for the payment of legal fees until after you have been acquitted of all charges, and even then the highest amount of insurance you can buy is usually about $50,000.  This is a pittance for the defense of a criminal case where the fees can easily reach hundreds of thousands of dollars.  The real kicker is that this is not the type of policy Professor Lund talking about.  This type of insurance does not compensate crime victims, it partially compensates the defender’s legal expenses when he or she is wrongfully accused of a crime. Finally, unlike homeowners insurance, this type of insurance is expensive.

If all the above is not sufficient to show that the whole idea of insurance as a form of gun control is completely nuts, then this should:  it is a scheme to make the 99.9% of gun owners who do not commit crimes pay the victims of the other 1/10th of 1 percent who do.  This isn’t taking money from Peter to give to Paul, it is making Peter pay for damage resulting from the crimes of Paul.  What’s next? Should Peter be made to do the prison time for Paul?

Lastly, someone is going to try to draw an analogy to automobile insurance that compensates victims of auto crashes. Don’t be fooled. Auto liability policies only cover acts of negligence.  Your auto liability policy will not cover you if you use your automobile to intentionally injure someone or damage property.  In that case the proper analogy is that you are using your automobile as a weapon to commit a crime.  No insurance for that.  Victims must look to the perpetrator’s personal assets for compensation.

*This tactic of plaintiffs’ lawyers doesn’t always work.  If there is clear evidence that injury to the plaintiff was the result of a criminal act the insurance company will probably deny coverage.  For sure if the insured was charged and convicted of a crime.


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