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Sacramento bill would mandate gun liability insurance

Proposed legislation in California would require gun owners to purchase liability insurance.
Proposed legislation in California would require gun owners to purchase liability insurance.
Pat Sullivan/AP

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Who should bear the costs of damages caused by gun violence? According to the non-profit Pacific Institute for Research and Evaluation, gun shootings cost the country $174 billion a year, roughly $644 per firearm owned in the U.S.  The agency took into account work lost, medical care, criminal justice expenses, insurance and pain and suffering. While nothing can replace a child, parent, spouse or future, there are quantifiable costs involved in every shooting; who should bear those costs?

A new bill introduced in Sacramento would require California gun owners to carry liability insurance to cover damages or injuries caused by their weapons.  To date, no other state has successfully passed such legislation, but it’s not for lack of trying. Similar bills have been proposed in Massachusetts, New York, Illinois and Pennsylvania, and recent high profile shootings have led to increased interest in the proposal nationwide.  The California bill, introduced by Assemblymen Philip Ting (San Francisco) and Jimmy Gomez (Los Angeles), would require anyone owning a weapon to carry the insurance, in the same way that drivers are required to have auto insurance, and seeks to ease some of the societal burden borne by taxpayers.

Opponents question the constitutionality of imposing insurance to exercise a Second Amendment right, and see it as an unfair burden on those in low income communities who may need to own weapons for self-protection.  And, they point out, those who own guns illegally would circumvent the requirement anyway. The National Rifle Association already provides optional insurance for its members, with personal liability amounts up to $250,000, covering bodily injury, property damage and some legal costs.

How much would mandatory gun liability insurance cost, and what exactly would be covered?  Would this requirement serve as a deterrent to gun ownership?  Is it a thinly disguised form of gun control?  Should society share in the unintended costs of a right that belongs to every American?

Is gun liability insurance a good idea? Is it unconstitutional to require someone to insure a firearm? Should there be discounts for gun owners who take training courses or who have proven to be safe over time?

Chuck Michel, Attorney, Michel & Associates, who represents the National Rifle Association and litigates Second Amendment cases , Author of a new book, "California Gun Laws: A guide to state and federal firearm regulations"

Adam Winkler, Constitutional law professor at UCLA; author of Gunfight: The Battle over the Right to Bear Arms in America (2011); writer for The Huffington Post & Daily Beast

Justin Wolfers, Economist; Professor of Public Policy & Economics, Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, University of Michigan

Russell Roberts, research fellow at the Hoover Institution, former professor of economics and the J. Fish and Lillian F. Smith Distinguished Scholar at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University

Pete Moraga, Spokesperson for the Insurance Information Network of California - a non-lobbying, non-profit for the property and casualty insurance industry