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Tuesday, May 7, 2013
On Jan. 19, this newspaper ran an Associated Press story, "Bill would require gun insurance." It described proposed legislation filed in Massachusetts that would make gun owners purchase liability insurance in case a firearm they owned caused an injury. Supporters say it would give the injured parties a legal recourse and would create financial incentives that would reduce accidents and fatalities, just as car insurance does.
State gun control activists have called it a creative way of dealing with gun violence. Many would-be gun owners might be priced out of the market by high premiums, and the policies would require gun owners to keep their weapons locked up.
According to the article, while government agencies can't enter your home to check that your guns are stored safely, your insurance company can. Of course, gun-rights supporters would consider this an unfair intrusion and an infringement of their right to bear arms. For those of us who want more controls on firearms, this type of insurance could be a godsend.
While this kind of bill might pass in a liberal state such as Massachusetts, it probably wouldn't have a chance in most of the rest of the country. Pro-business and pro-gun legislators - just as much in the pockets of the insurance industry as they are in the National Rifle Association's - would be forced to make a choice between the two.
But who needs a law? According to Katha Treanor, senior information resources specialist for Virginia's State Corporation Commission, "most insurance products in Virginia are not required by law but are products the insurance industry sees as providing a marketable value to consumers." No doubt they would not hesitate to enter what would be a large and lucrative market, if they could.
No one can force you to buy any type of insurance - whether it's car insurance or medical insurance through the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. You are free to choose not to participate in either, if you are willing to pay a penalty. But these liability policies would likely be written by the same companies that already offer homeowner and umbrella policies. If you don't buy the liability insurance, they can always jack those rates up until you give in. Of course, criminals would not insure their guns, and without a law, it would be easy for others not to report them. But anything that might keep even a few guns out of the hands of people they don't belong to would be a good thing.
Don't think it can happen? For the past 27 years, I have worked as a freelance paralegal doing real estate title examinations. Sometime during the mid-'90s, insurance companies decided freelancers like me should have our own errors and omissions coverage, and they aggressively sold the idea to our employers. I am not required to buy this insurance, but I can't get any work without it.
At this time, the paralegal field is completely unregulated in Virginia, even though state, national and local paralegal organizations have worked tirelessly to get legislatures to set some sort of licensing standards for us. They have not been successful, in part because our lawyer-legislators fear that they will have to pay their staffs and contract workers more if we have some sort of certification.
But in the wake of the collapse of the housing industry, title insurance companies are suddenly interested in making sure those who perform title exams are qualified to do so. In 2012, the Virginia Land Title Association began a title examiner's certification program and made passing it a requirement for anyone doing title exams for its member insurance companies. In addition to offering opportunities for recertification, the organization has also indicated that it will work with the state legislature on licensing requirements.
And you know what? I have more faith in the ability of the insurance industry to get this done than I do in the efforts of the paralegal associations that want it. And I think the same thing will happen with liability insurance for firearms. The insurance companies of this nation may be able to accomplish what individuals and our government cannot - namely, effecting meaningful gun control. Their desire for profit may be just the thing that will make our country a safer place to live in.
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