Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Mandatory Insurance for Concealed Carry Participants?

The other day I was in a gun control debate on Facebook when a friend suggested an interesting proposal I hadn’t heard before. This person was fine with private gun ownership in the confines of one’s own home, but felt that people who tried to use their guns in self-defense in public spaces were unacceptably dangerous, both to the taxpayer and to the others around them. Therefore, he wanted to require anyone seeking a concealed carry permit to have their gun insured, in much the same way drivers are forced to insure their car. The pricing for these insurance plans could be determined by what he called the “free market,” such that if the risks of incurring liabilities were found to be unacceptably high by the insurance companies, insuring a weapon would become too pricy for the average person to afford. These prices might also vary by the prospective carrier’s location, training, and mental health as determined by the company, theoretically making it harder for untrained or unstable people living in violent areas to get guns. I disagreed with this idea. Here was my response:

One justification for your proposal is that taxpayers are currently being saddled with "the carnage and destruction of property incurred by gun usage." I see three problems with this.

1. There are two types of gun users in the world: those who intend to kill innocent people, and those who don't. Which group would a mandatory insurance policy save taxpayers money on? The first group isn't going to buy the insurance anyway, because if they gave a crap about the law, they wouldn’t be murdering people in the first place. And the second group isn't really imposing costs on anybody, at least not that you've shown.

2. The only way taxpayers can be on the hook is if legislators have decided to place them on the hook. The costs taxpayers pay to cover certain expenses were not imposed by the individuals whose actions created those expenses originally. Indeed, those actions went on long before taxpayers ever picked up the tab. Rather, the cost was imposed by the lawmakers who decided government ought to pay for those things at taxpayer expense. Those taxpayer costs are therefore not the direct result of anyone exercising any freedom, and nor are they justification to curtail those freedoms. We cannot ignore the middle-man; whenever the taxpayer is made to pay for anything, it’s always the government’s fault.

3. How much can taxpayers really be on the hook in the first place? As far as I know there aren't any laws that gunshot victims must be financially compensated by the state for their wounds/emotional turmoil. Do you mean mandatory ER visits from those victims who don't have health insurance? That's a puny cost when you narrow down all ER visits to just those who are from guns, and then to just those gun victims who are uninsured. Were you referring to courtroom costs? If so, wouldn't that same standard apply to every law that could potentially be broken? We can't preemptively charge people for legal fees they probably won't incur!

Next, you asked me to imagine a case in which a well-intentioned gunman trying to stop the bad guy with his concealed weapon was killed by the bad-guy in the attempt. That situation would be tragic, but still not very informative on the overall effectiveness of the strategy. Obviously, anyone deciding to enter a gunfight does so knowing they may be killed, but perhaps those same people (or others in their place) would have been killed anyway had they not attempted to disarm, delay or kill the attacker. You've also suggested that anyone who whips out a gun in such a situation risks being confused as the bad guy by police, thereby endangering himself even further. While that's true, to me that just further proves that people should understand they are defending themselves at their own risk. Banning concealed carry for these individuals sake amounts to protecting them from themselves, which is tough to justify. What seems more relevant from a legal perspective is, does concealed carry by good, law-abiding people actually place other good guys, besides the carrier, in significantly greater danger than they were previously? Statistically, I don't think there's any evidence of that. Can you cite any situations in which other people, besides the carrying-good-guy, were killed accidentally? And even if so, how do we know that those same people wouldn't have eventually been killed by the bad-guy on a shooting spree anyway?

You've expressed your personal preference that if you were in the vicinity of a madman with a gun with nowhere to escape, you'd prefer to just wait for the police to arrive, and wouldn't want anyone else to whip out a gun to try and stop him. That's fine, but personally I know I'd prefer the exact opposite. In high school we did an "intruder drill" twice a year, in which they ordered everyone to just cluster in the corner crouching down with the lights off to make it seem like nobody was there. I distinctly remember thinking to myself during these drills, which often lasted for a half-hour, "wow, if this ever happens in real life, we're screwed. As soon as the gunman enters the classroom, we're sitting ducks all in a row, just waiting to die." I know I would feel much more secure in that situation if the teacher had a gun locked in a safe, and could assume a defensive position by the door. And if I knew there was a principal or security guard on the prowl in the hallway to confront, stop or at least delay and distract the gunman, I don't see how that would place me in any additional danger. Nevertheless, I do understand your concerns; it’s perfectly fine that we have a disagreement in preferences.

What isn’t fine is for either of us to force our preferences on the other. You say we “live in a land of laws,” and ask why people of my opinion "get to decide" those laws for everyone else. That’s an excellent question: why does my preference trump yours? The answer is that you're the one asking the government to wield coercive force restricting my liberty. Your proposal is to ban something: in this case, the activity of carrying an uninsured gun. Enforcing that ban means punishing those who carry an uninsured gun under the force of law. That force is only justifiable if the activity being banned imposes costs on other people. In this case, that means the act of carrying a weapon itself has to jeopardize the rights of others, besides the carrier. Aside from a few hypothetical situations, you've not demonstrated any evidence that that's the case.

I, on the other hand, merely want the government to leave people alone, which is what happens in a state of nature in the absence of government on this issue. That proposal requires a much lower burden of proof, because inaction doesn’t need to be legitimate. Wielding force under governing authority does, and it can only be legitimate if there is a moral consensus that the events it’s designed to prevent pose a graver threat than the force itself. Constitutionally repealing the right to bear (as opposed to merely the right to store) arms would require a 2/3 majority of congress/the state legislatures, and nothing remotely near that consensus exists. Just because we “live in a land of laws” does not mean those laws get to decide everything I can or cannot do.

You claim that this is okay on private property, but that "in public places you assume a certain level of risk that society mitigates by having and paying for law enforcement." Well, yes, but that's not the only way our society mitigates it. The modern purpose of the second amendment is that we don't need to trust our lives exclusively in the hands of policemen, because even the most adept and timely police force in the world cannot possibly defend us from every threat. We are guaranteed the ability to defend ourselves as a last resort - even if others, or a majority of others, would rather see us defenseless. With your same logic, you could just as easily say that people like you, who are uncomfortable with this privilege, assume a certain level of risk when you walk outside. Your preferences may influence your behavior in how you personally accommodate for that perceived risk - perhaps by avoiding shopping malls or gun shows - but they don't change my rights. I personally don't plan on exercising that right because I have minimal likelihood of being attacked and feel no need for a gun. But those in the crime ridden ghettos of America, where the police oftentimes don't fully investigate to attacks or even respond to them in a timely manner, must particularly appreciate that freedom. So do many women, for which guns are the only equalizer of physical strength.

If you can objectively prove that the freedom of law abiding people to carry a concealed firearm significantly jeopardizes the rights of others, and that it costs more lives than it saves, I'll support your proposal. Until then, the burden of justifying such a policy is on you.

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