There’s been a lot of discussion about mental illness as a common thread in recent shootings. But we can’t focus just on this. We’ve always had mental illness and we’ve had guns for a long time. Cultural factors and changing attitudes have made this a more dangerous combination. It’s unlikely that we will eliminate either one, so we need to figure out how to keep them apart. Neither the government nor the family has been up to the task.
My letter to the editor; The Grinnell Herald-Register, Monday, February 11, 2013
Actually what National Rifle Association CEO Wayne LaPierre said was, “Gun owners will not accept blame for acts of criminals.” It may seem like I’m parsing words here but the only difference between the two words is that “blame” implies we have no control over the situation and that simply isn’t true. And either way, he’s got it wrong, because the gun owners I know want to take responsibility.
By proposing another “more guns” solution to the gun problem, the NRA has shown they are an effective lobby for gun manufacturers at the expense of responsible gun owners. A liberal friend told me perhaps they should change their slogan from we’ll give up our guns when you “pry them from my cold dead hands” to we’ll make concessions when you “pry them from our cold dead hearts.” And I’m inclined to agree. The NRA strategy is to make this issue as divisive as possible, thus obscuring any possibility for compromise. And Congress has shown us that divisiveness is the surest way to get nothing done. And I expect they will be successful…. for now. But the “all or nothing win” has a downside, especially for those of us who want to preserve our second amendment rights.
If our second amendment rights are worth saving, they must be worth saving for future generations. And by not addressing the problem things will only get worse, causing public opinion to reach a tipping point so that today’s big win will become tomorrow’s big loss for gun rights advocates. The choice is finding reasonable solutions now or oppressive measures later.
The second amendment was never about skeet shooting, hunting or collecting. It’s about defense of liberty! So I also have to agree with the conservative stance that if we leave gun control up to the government, “how can we know whether they will then impose measures that keep citizens safe or that keep the government safe?”
The NRA says education and training leads to responsible gun ownership. In fact, this works very well when it comes to safety because there’s both a carrot and a stick. The stick, as so eloquently put in “A Christmas Story” is “you’ll shoot your eye out” while the carrot is…. well I’m not sure; I’m not a gun owner. But Heston’s colorful quote reminds us that there’s another side of responsible gun ownership: guns outlive us all and may change hands many times in a lifetime and there’s no real stick to encourage us to make sure guns pass to other responsible hands. And even if there was a stick, none of us should want the government wielding that stick. But who could wield the stick?
When cooler heads prevail we might see that there are solutions that satisfy most concerns on both sides of this argument, so I will propose one. We all want to reduce the risk of injury or death and we already have a private institution designed to deal with risk. I spent 30 years working in the insurance industry so I can assure you this fits the criteria of an insurable risk (large number of exposures, severe loss potential and low frequency of loss). And as in this case, where it is a societal need to deny undesirable risks and discourage higher risks, insurance underwriting and pricing tools are particularly effective.
But we still need the government to craft the stick. Laws need to better define gun responsibility as absolute liability. Certain risks are inherently so dangerous (such as building demolition or passenger airlines) that victims (by law) do not have to prove negligence. Certainly guns should fall under this category. I would propose that, proof of a million dollar insurance policy be required when new guns are registered. The policy attaches to the gun wherever it goes until it is registered to a new owner or destroyed. That means the insurance company remains on the hook even if the gun is stolen (that’s part of the risk). The original owner’s liability is limited to the million dollar covered by insurance as long as he reports the theft and is truthful on the police report. Liability of intermediate owners (such as purchasers of stolen guns) is unlimited. Stolen guns are often not reported when the owners fear implicating a relative.
Government agencies are sporadic with background checks and have notably botched the record keeping. Insurance companies have a better track record of consistency, accuracy and efficiency in maintaining underwriting records. In other words, they are better prepared to maintain checks and balances that would affect their bottom line which happens to be our bottom line too (to minimize risk). Insurance is a way to administer this at a lower cost and assign these costs through pricing to the users, the gun owners.
Now I know this proposal won’t make everyone happy, such as those who rushed out to buy semi-automatic guns on speculation that they will soon be outlawed, driving up their black market price. Some gun owners may object to bearing the cost of underwriting the risk rather than sharing with all taxpayers. But I look at this this way: we all pay for these safety checks one way or another and since there are more guns in this country than people, only owners of multiple guns will end up paying more.