In the wake of Newtown and as a Connecticut resident, I kept asking myself one question. What would have prevented Nancy Lanza from giving her son Adam a gun? Nancy Lanza was a law abiding citizen. She bought guns legally, shot guns legally, had no criminal record at all. Even if we make it harder for some people to buy certain guns and ammunition, chances are Nancy Lanza would still have been allowed to buy those guns. She would have taught Adam to shoot, practiced targets with him, and permitted him access to those guns. The laws being proposed right now would not make that very behavior illegal. So what changes if we pass them? Nothing.
But what if Nancy Lanza had to buy insurance for her firearms? Let’s imagine that. The insurance company would want to know who else in the household would be permitted to use them. They would attach a questionnaire about permitted users- asking about their criminal background and mental health history. There it was- my “aha!” moment.
No way would Nancy Lanza have broken the law. I didn’t know Nancy, but I don’t believe she would have lied on her application. If Nancy’s insurance company forbade those with a mental health condition access to guns, Nancy Lanza would have kept those guns elsewhere.
An insurance company would want to know where the guns were stored, who had access to them, if the ammunition was kept separately from the weapon. They might ask about permits, gun safety courses and how many guns were on premises. Perhaps the insurance company would offer a discounted premium for certain safety mechanisms, similar to discounts for burglar alarms in homeowner’s policies.
Gun safety is a public health issue, and we are in crisis. By 2015, firearm fatalities are predicted to exceed auto fatalities for the very first time. While shooting deaths in 2015 are estimated to rise to almost 33,000, those related to car accidents will decline to about 32,000, based on the 10 year average trend.
Like guns, cars are lethal weapons too, if placed in the wrong hands. Anyone can own or drive a car, as long as they insure and drive it safely. But we decided long ago that all of us are better protected when we individually carry insurance, take driver’s ed, and equip our cars with seat belts and airbags. Due to our efforts, traffic fatalities in 2011 were the lowest in 63 years. Nor was it a coincidence that the movement to increase the legal drinking age was led by insurance companies. Once they saw how many 18-20 year olds were responsible for fatalities, they lobbied to change the law. Insurance companies are on the front lines of efforts to reduce risk, because the fewer the accidents, the less they have to pay out in damages. I’m betting the same will be true for gun incidents.
There are 88.1 guns for every 100 Americans in civilian hands. The vast majority use guns safely. The vast majority of drivers aren’t reckless either, but they still cannot drive without a license or insurance. We don’t forbid all people from driving because some people get drunk and get behind the wheel. Nor should we forbid all people from owning guns because a few are criminals. Insurance companies will do what the government can neither afford nor accomplish- they will reduce the risk of harm to the rest of us by forcing individual gun owners to act responsibly.
As far as the Constitution is concerned, nothing I am suggesting takes away anyone’s right to bear arms. The Supreme Court has repeatedly said that this right, like our others, is subject to reasonable limitations.
Massachusetts has recently proposed requiring firearms insurance. The NRA advertises firearms insurance on its website. Pro- gun guests on my radio show have been disarmed (you should excuse the expression) by this idea, agreeing that a private, capitalist solution is an intelligent way to approach a public health crisis.
Connecticut is in a unique position to lead. We are both the insurance capital of the world and the former home to Remington and Smith & Wesson. We are even home to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, based in Newtown, CT, an irony too rich to be a coincidence. Requiring firearms insurance may receive some resistance from those who want no changes at all. But in a showdown between the insurance industry and the NRA, my money is on the insurance companies. We lost a terrible battle in Newtown. Let’s win the war in Hartford.