As the debate over gun control rages on in the wake of last year’s horrific mass shootings, New York lawmakers have proposed what they see as a compromise. A new bill in the State Assembly would make a $1 million insurance policy mandatory for gun owners. Many other states are considering similar legislation.
The logic here is that having to pay so much for insurance will make guns too expensive, and fewer people will buy them. The policy would also insure damages for victims of gun violence — although in most cases it wouldn’t cover intentional shootings, only negligence.
The prohibitive cost of the insurance will cause a slight decline in gun ownership, which is good. But the idea that having an insurance policy to support victims is the answer to America’s gun problem is chilling. While this money will protect victims, it will also give gun owners a safety net if they are negligent and perhaps even if they intentionally harm someone.
The point of buying insurance — on your car, your home, your life or your gun — is that you don’t have to worry as much about the future. If something bad happens to you or your property, you won’t have to pay through the nose to solve your problem. Applying this attitude to guns means that gun owners can worry far less about potentially harming others.
Of course, a gun owner’s insurance rates will rise if his or her weapon causes harm, and this will be a disincentive if the legislation is enacted. I don’t deny that the law may be somewhat effective in this sense. It is the attitude behind the law that is problematic, the notion that we can throw money at the issue of gun violence, and that gun owners can insure themselves in case they harm someone. This law acknowledges that guns cause violence, injury and loss of life — and then it offers protection to gun owners so they don’t have to worry as much about it.
“Solutions” like these tackle the problem just enough to distract us from coming up with a real way to stop or at least limit gun violence. Focusing on the insurance question only takes time and energy away from constructive debate about how to actually stop people from buying and using guns. It will be harder for the public to accept an actual solution, as it will involve forcing many people to give up their guns. But we can’t afford to waste time on a nominal solution when the stakes are so high.
A version of this articles was published in the Monday, March 4 print edition. Jess Littman is a staff columnist. Email her at [email protected]