05252017Headline:

Portland, Oregon

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Emily Terriquez
Emily Terriquez
Attorney • (800) 905-4676

Legislative approaches to gun violence

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There’s been a lot of debate in the last few months about gun control. States are taking different approaches to legislation in an effort to prevent violence – ranging from holding gun manufacturers liable for their weapons to requiring that all gun owners have insurance.

Currently, a federal law passed in 2005 gives the gun industry immunity for gun violence. However, Colorado lawmakers believe that gun makers should no longer get special treatment: Democrats have introduced legislation that would hold gun makers and distributors liable in a civil case if the gun maker was negligent. A gun maker could be negligent if it uses faulty materials that cause a gun to malfunction, or a faulty design that breaks too easily, causing injury to consumers.

This would put gun manufacturers on a level playing field with all other producers of dangerous items. For instance, the lawsuits filed against Toyota for unintended vehicle acceleration cases; or the claims against cigarette manufacturers for failure to warn about health dangers known to the producer.

The proposed Colorado law would be trumped by the current federal law, but there is some discussion in Congress about repeal.

Others states have proposed implementing some type of gun liability insurance. The idea is that it would decrease the possession of firearms by irresponsible people, and create a fund to compensate the victims of irresponsible behavior. Insurance companies would be able to collect data and analyze the risk for various classes of gun owners, and the price of an insurance policy would increase with the risk.

This would make gun owners responsible for the risk of owning a weapon, instead of just allocating the risk to everyone. Requiring insurance based on an individual’s risk could encourage gun owners to take gun safety classes or keep their weapons locked up in order to get lower insurance rates.

While no state currently requires gun liability insurance, several have considered it, including California, Massachusetts, Maryland, and New York. The laws typically require that anyone with a firearm have insurance, and requires that if you transfer a gun, you have to verify that the person getting it has liability insurance. This is similar to what is required when you buy or sell a vehicle.

There are many opponents to the law, including the National Rifle Association (NRA), which argues that it is “economically discriminatory.” It should be noted that the NRA offers excess personal liability insurance for hunters and shooters.

There are some groups who assert that requiring insurance to exercise a constitutional right cannot be done (see this argument in The Pop Tort), but this has yet to be decided. Other constitutional rights are sometimes associated with fees, such as requiring a permit or insurance for a parade or rally under the First Amendment.

While any legislation is sure to make its way through the court system, it will not be for many years to come.