A Gun Solution We Can “Live” With

As published in the Grinnell Herald-Register on February 19, 2018

As we mourn the deaths of another 17 young people with their whole lives ahead of them, I have to ask what’s actually changed since February 11, 2013 when the Grinnell Herald-Register published my first article on the subject.  Well in the five years since Sandy Hook some of the states hardest hit like Connecticut and California have enacted progressive gun legislation but on the whole legislation in the US has only increased the risk to American citizens.  Iowa is a good example of a state where reckless legislation is likely to make matters worse while we remain convinced that what happened in Parkland (recently named the safest city in Florida) can’t happen here.  The NRA has since become (whether wittingly or unwittingly) entangled in a Russian plot to create divisiveness in our country.

And the NRA under new leadership headed by our own (Grinnell IA business owner) Pete Brownell is yet to clarify whether they are a lobby for gun manufacturers, or an advocate for their members and the American public. 

Since I wrote this 2013 article the gun owners I’ve talked to overwhelmingly say they will support reasonable measures to curb gun violence.  I wish they would say the same to Pete.  But don’t take my word for it; in the latest polls 84% of Americans think gun registration should be required for guns purchased at gun shows.   I have asked the Herald Register to republish my 2013 article because it puts forth a skeletal plan to empower responsible gun owners to play a role in the solution simply by making sure their guns are passed to other responsible gun owners when they are done with them.  My challenge to NRA President, Pete Brownell is, “walk across the street to Grinnell Mutual (where by the way I started my insurance career) and work out a risk management formula that also promotes growth for both your industries, then tell our legislators what you need to make it work.”

Here is the reprint of “When LaPierre says gun owners will not accept responsibility, he’s got it wrong

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 and they only need a little help from lawmakers who just don’t seem to get it.

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 recent big wins will become tomorrow’s big losses for gun rights advocates. The choice is finding reasonable solutions now or face oppressive measures later.

There’s been a lot of discussion about mental illness as a common thread in recent shootings. Mental illness and guns have both been around for a very long time, so neither can account for recent adverse trending. 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.

I live in Iowa where we issue gun permits to the totally blind and where this year alone we closed down half the state’s mental health institutions. This is not reflective of the good voters of Iowa nor is it what our gun owners want. It’s just one more reason not to trust the government or the lobbyists who buy their votes.

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?” Guns “winding up in the hands of the wrong people” is the greatest threat to our second amendment rights and we will need the help of responsible gun owners to prevent this from happening. But first, we must empower them to do the job.

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.”

But Charlton Heston’s colorful quote, “when you take it from my cold dead hands” reminds us that there’s another side of responsible gun ownership; guns outlive us all and may change hands many times in a lifetime.

Why shouldn’t I sell my gun to the highest bidder or leave it to my psychotic nephew, Fred? There’s no real stick to discourage this.

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 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. Few people will just sell their M16 assault rifle to a stranger without proof it’s reregistered or fail to report gun theft, because they suspect their nephew, Fred, when in means risking everything they own. 

Gun owners are already held liable for allowing their gun to fall into the hands of children.  Is it too much to ask that they take some precautions not to put them in even more dangerous hands.

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 rush out to buy semi-automatic guns on speculation that they may 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.

CNN reports over 400,000 victims have died of gunshot wounds in the US since 2001. It’s not these victims problem anymore; it’s ours. So let’s stop trying to cast blame and tell our lawmakers to find solutions “we can all live with.”