Massachusetts Should Require Gun Liability Insurance

Take the example of Robert Crimo III, the alleged shooter of Highland Park, Illinois, a walking red flag. Highland Park Police visited his home twice in 2019 – once when Crimo attempted to kill himself and another time when he ‘said he was going to kill everyone’. The second visit was so alarming that Highland Park Police filed a “clear and present danger” report with the Illinois State Police and confiscated 16 knives, a dagger and a sword. Additionally, Crimo had an unsettling social media presence. A video he created featured a heavily armed cartoon soldier opening fire at a school before being shot dead by police. Despite these red flags, Crimo never received an injunction to prevent him from buying weapons. And shortly after the second home visit of 2019, Illinois State Police issued Crimo the firearms license that allowed him to legally purchase the semi-automatic rifle that was allegedly used. to kill seven people and injure dozens.

So what happened? How did Crimo get licensed less than a year after showing warning signs of mental health? The fact is, most red flag laws only allow law enforcement or family members to apply directly to the courts for a restraining order. Between 2019 and 2020, only 53 gun prohibition orders were obtained in Illinois. Compare that to the 3,112 gun deaths that occurred in the state during that time. There is no doubt that red flag laws, if expanded, can be part of an overall public safety strategy. However, Highland Park emphasizes the need to expand our system of screening people who want to buy a firearm.

Compulsory liability insurance for gun owners, requiring them to absorb all costs associated with their gun ownership, would be a giant step in the fight against gun violence in the Commonwealth. “Legislation requiring liability insurance for possession of firearms,” sponsored by Representative David Linsky and Senator Michael Barrett, is currently being debated in the upcoming legislative session.

Compulsory liability insurance for firearms is analogous to car insurance. All 50 states require car owners to carry car insurance. Thus, if a driver is involved in an accident that damages property or injures or kills another person, a victim may receive compensation for their costs and injuries. Also, if a driver engages in reckless driving behavior, their premiums will increase. If this behavior continues, their premiums will increase and they will eventually be banned from driving. Likewise, if a gun owner’s weapon is used to commit an illegal offence, he will be liable for the cost. To have the financial means to pay the damages to the victims, gun owners must take out insurance. These premiums can be set by insurance companies taking into account the factors of age, number of firearms owned, type of firearm purchased and prior offenses.

Insurance companies in many states offer policies to gun owners who wish to insure themselves voluntarily. Since the infrastructure is already in place, it would not be difficult for insurers to perform background checks when determining the appropriate amount of coverage.

Compulsory liability insurance for firearms increases the risk that people who shouldn’t have firearms won’t get them for two main reasons. First, it alleviates the daunting task of screening potential gun owners away from police and insurance actuaries. The police mainly focus on fighting crime. Inevitably, overworked officers don’t always find all the relevant evidence or assess it accurately. On the other hand, insurance actuaries have only one job: to assess the risk of their policyholders. Actuaries are fully trained and competent to carry out comprehensive investigations of this nature. Further, unlike family and friends who witness violent threats or concerning behavior but fail to act – out of love or recklessness – insurance actuaries have the professional incentive to assess a situation objectively and will respond to these clear warning signs.

Second, compulsory firearms liability insurance is a system designed to respond to risk. If a gun owner had a series of red flags indicating a serious risk of harm posed by the owner, the type of gun or the number of guns owned, the insurance company would increase its premiums and would reduce. Insurance companies are strongly encouraged to engage in accurate risk assessment, as failure to do so will result in the payment of significant financial costs.

Thus, this solution would both compensate victims and prevent, deter and detect people like Crimo from obtaining a firearm.

Deborah Ramirez is a professor of law at Northeastern University School of Law and co-director of the school’s Center of Law, Equity and Race. Senator Michael Barrett represents the Third District of Middlesex and is co-sponsor of Bill S.1537. Representative David Linsky represents the Fifth District of Middlesex and is co-sponsor of Bill H.2487. Jacqueline Bohatch and Anna Olsson are law students at Northeastern University School of Law.