Reviews | Why we can’t require liability insurance for gun owners

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In their June 19 Outlook essay, “The case for mandatory gun-liability insurance,” Jason Abaluck and Ian Ayres argued for mandatory gun-liability insurance. Their case boiled down to “You have to have insurance to drive a car. Why not if you own a firearm?

Driving a car is a privilege. The government can legitimately regulate and even prohibit citizens from exercising privileges. Licensing requirements to drive a car and the requirement of liability insurance to do so fall within the scope of legitimate lien regulation.

Conversely, “to possess and bear arms” is a constitutional right. A law allowing insurance companies to ration the possession of firearms through insurance premiums would considerably chill the climate for the exercise of this right. It is a matter of settled law that measures which chill the climate for the exercise of a constitutional right are unconstitutional. Therefore, federal or state laws requiring firearms liability insurance would clearly not stand up to legal challenge.

So the simple answer to the question posed by the authors is: because one cannot regulate the exercise of a constitutional right in the same way as one regulates the exercise of a privilege, what is the driving a car in our society.

“The Case for Compulsory Firearms Liability Insurance” argued for firearms insurance based on the familiar car insurance model: “You have to buy insurance to drive a car. Why not if do you own a firearm?

A similar logic can be made for gun licenses: you must have a license to drive a car. Why not if you own a firearm? Germany requires its citizens to obtain a firearms license to purchase a gun, and it has a fraction of the mass shootings and gun violence that plague the United States. Germany has the fourth highest gun ownership rate in the world, but its gun death rate is fourteenth that of the United States. In 2018, there were 815 gun deaths in Germany, compared to nearly 40,000 gun deaths in the United States.

The licensing process in Germany includes background checks for criminal records, drug addiction and mental health issues. People under the age of 25 applying for their first firearms license must go through a psychiatric evaluation. Over the past few decades, Germany has implemented a federal gun registry, mandatory secure storage, and a mandatory security check for gun owners every five years.

A first step toward gun safety and gun violence reduction in the United States would be to require all Americans to obtain a license to purchase a gun.

Christina Files, Chevy-Chase

The author is co-chair of the DC Area Interfaith Gun Violence Prevention Network.