WASHINGTON (CBSDC/AP) — Two D.C. councilmembers said Thursday that they support some form of mandate that gun owners carry liability insurance, but they would have to overcome the objections of Mayor Vincent Gray for the District of Columbia to become the nation’s first jurisdiction to require such coverage.
Councilmembers Vincent Orange and Mary Cheh said after a hearing Thursday that any bill they pursue would likely be narrower than Cheh’s initial proposal, which includes a requirement that gun owners insure themselves against intentional as well as accidental shootings.
At least a half-dozen states are considering insurance requirements for gun owners, although none of the bills has made it past the hearing stage.
Some gun-control advocates believe that insurance can help reduce gun violence by encouraging responsible gun ownership, in part through lower rates for gun owners who secure their weapons and maintain a perfect safety record. Insurance would also provide a mechanism to compensate victims of accidental or negligent shootings.
Insurance-industry representatives argued Thursday that there is no market for such coverage, noting that many accidental shootings are covered by homeowners’ policies. The industry is particularly troubled by a clause in the district’s proposal that would mandate insurance for “willful acts,” which would go beyond the scope of conventional liability insurance. Orange and Cheh, both Democrats, said they would likely remove that clause.
The district has some of the strictest gun-control laws in the nation. Handguns were banned outright in the nation’s capital until a landmark 2008 Supreme Court ruling, and since then, about 2,000 people have legally purchased firearms. The 13-member council includes 11 Democrats and two left-leaning independents, potentially making the city fertile territory for those pushing an insurance mandate.
But the Democratic mayor does not think the legislation is necessary, said Chester McPherson, the city’s deputy insurance commissioner.
“The executive is not convinced that there is currently a persuasive argument to support the need for insurance for firearms in the home,” McPherson said.
Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, who crafted many of the city’s gun regulations, also has concerns about the proposal.
“The fact that it’s uncharted territory begs the question: Is there really a need here, or does this simply have the effect of increasing the burden of gun ownership in the name of good intentions?” Mendelson said.
Orange, who chairs the council committee that oversees insurance, said he would support mandating that gun owners add a gun clause to their homeowners’ policies. Homeowners’ insurance already covers some accidental shootings, industry representatives said.
Cheh, who introduced the bill, said that while it would likely become narrower, it’s still worth pursuing.
“I think there’s a path to travel here that would give a source of compensation via insurance to people injured because of negligent acts,” she said.
Some gun owners advocate voluntarily purchasing insurance that covers costs associated with using a firearm in self-defense. The National Rifle Association offers its members a variety of policies intended to protect them from liability for accidental or self-defense-related shootings.
But three gun owners who testified Thursday said government-mandated insurance would be onerous, unnecessary and potentially cost-prohibitive.
“What induces me to take care with my firearm is prison,” said Chris Zarconi, a district resident. “It’s not insurance.”
In neighboring Maryland, Democratic Gov. Martin O’Malley signed a major gun control measure Thursday. The legislation includes provisions banning 45 varieties of assault weapons and makes fingerprinting mandatory to receive a handgun license.
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