Where has creativity in policy formation gone? What happened to the think tanks actually thinking?
With most brainstorming sessions, pedestrian ideas are taken as a given, such as mental health checks for new firearms purchases, raising the purchasing age, and banning assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines. The clearly bonkers outliers like the burbling bloke in the corner who says things like “I know, let’s arm all teachers” are usually thrown into the virtual dustbin from the outset. Such easy fixes could be implemented with much more expedition were the major retailers of firearms to take an ethical selling stance. And guess what? Dick’s Sporting Goods, Walmart and Kroger have just taken the stand that they should have been forced into by the government years—and hundreds of lives—ago.
Congress should realize private industry is in a much better position to regulate the consumer than the federal government and pass a single law: mandatory firearm insurance. Just as it is an offense to not have car insurance, the same approach should be applied to the ownership of firearms. And if you don’t have insurance, you can’t buy a gun.
Under such a law, for example, a person with no previous convictions and who only uses his or her firearm to hunt in a controlled environment would pay a low premium. On the other hand, those who have a domestic violence conviction would see premiums skyrocket. Such a law would likely lead to decreased legal gun ownership, thanks to expensive barriers to entry and possibly even coverage denials—especially for the very people in whose hands guns could be most dangerous. If you shoot yourself in a hunting accident, you could claim, and if you shoot another, they or their families could make a claim. Under the current system, the families of children murdered in mass shootings have to try to make claims against schools or local districts, which are largely immune.
Premiums would be lower for those who undergo regular training sessions, attend periodic mental health assessments, or keep only certain categories of firearms. This law would also have the collateral benefit of pitting the insurance lobby against the NRA, with the former working tooth and nail to ensure it wouldn’t be forced into making payments to the families of victims of school shootings.
To be fair, I cannot take the credit for this stellar idea. Such credit should go to a lifelong friend of mine, who is a gun owner and has asked not to be named for fear of some crazy bloke with an AR-15. This solution is elegant because it has the capacity to tackle a whole range of problems that have not yet been properly identified.
For example, mental health checks on the purchase of a new weapon are essential, but implementation outside of the major retailers or in the second-hand market might prove problematic. Further, a single check at the outset does not protect against those who already have a gun or later onset and progressive mental illness. Firearms insurance companies would be able to build policies with lower premiums for those willing to undergo regular mental health checks. Also, underwriters would demand enhanced oversight for those who have a history of being prescribed antidepressants and certain drugs, such as Ritalin and Adderall. There are multiple studies indicating that long-term dependency or withdrawal from both drugs can lead to delusions, anxiety, paranoia and agitation, all of which pose underwriting risk.
While not being the panacea, few things are more certain than that politicians will agree on gun reform in three ways: badly, late and never. But one simple stroke from lawmakers has the potential to make a tremendous difference: placing private industry and, in this instance, insurers, in place to set the agenda.
Robert Garson is managing partner of Garson, Ségal, Steinmetz, Fladgate LLP, an intellectual property and international litigation firm in New York. He provides Observer legal representation.