Insurers oppose gun liability insurance

Rep. Linsky says proposal would boost gun safety

TWO GROUPS REPRESENTING most of the companies selling insurance in Massachusetts say they oppose a legislative proposal requiring gun owners to purchase special liability insurance.

The two groups, the Property Casualty Insurance Association of America and the Massachusetts Insurance Federation, say they oppose any type of mandatory insurance because it typically leads to heavy government regulation of their business, including price controls and mandatory product offerings.

“If people are required or mandated by statute to have this coverage, then we would be mandated to provide it,” said Frank O’Brien, vice president of state government relations at the Property Casualty Insurance Association.

But the insurers are also wary of a government attempt to regulate guns through them. “Why should insurance companies be the deterrent for ownership of guns?” asks James Harrington, president of the Massachusetts Insurance Federation. “If government wants to do something to deter ownership of guns, let government do it.”

Rep. David Linsky of Natick, the author of the gun liability insurance provision, which is contained in a much broader gun control bill, said the goal of the measure is to treat gun owners like car owners. In Massachusetts, car owners are required to buy insurance coverage, leading to an elaborate insurance system that financially rewards good drivers with lower premiums and penalizes bad drivers with higher premiums.

Linsky said the same approach can be used with guns, with some gun control advocates saying liability insurance might cost less if a gun owner stores his weapons safely or customizes his guns so only he can fire them.  “The idea is to encourage people to handle their guns more safely and store them more safely,” Linsky said, noting the goal of his provision is to reduce accidental shootings and suicides.

Linsky said gun liability insurance would not apply to intentional acts where the gun owner shoots someone deliberately. But the language in Linsky’s bill is vague. It says anyone with a gun, shotgun, or rifle shall have liability insurance or face a fine and/or imprisonment. The provision leaves all the details to the state’s insurance commissioner, whose spokeswoman declined comment. Gun liability insurance provisions have also been introduced as part of legislation filed in Connecticut and California.

One insurer, who is not authorized to speak publicly about the Massachusetts legislation, said he believes few companies would willingly offer gun liability insurance even though some existing homeowners’ insurance policies already provide coverage for accidents involving guns.

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Bruce Mohl

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About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

The insurer also said the distinction between intentional and accidental acts involving guns is not always clear-cut. For example, the shootings in Newtown, Connecticut, by Adam Lanza would appear to be intentional, but the insurer said some have suggested that Lanza’s mother might be held liable because she failed to secure her guns properly. According to a story in the New York Times, the families of the students responsible for the 1999 killings at Columbine High School used money from their homeowners’ insurance policies to pay claims brought by victims.

Linsky, while acknowledging his gun liability insurance proposal has received a lot of attention, said it is just one of many provisions in his legislation. “There is no one single solution to reducing gun violence,” he said. “This is one small piece of the puzzle.”