The cover story in this quarter’s edition of Regulation is a fascinating article by Stephen G. Gilles and Nelson Lund looking at the possible constitutional ramifications of mandatory liability insurance for firearm owners. Gilles and Lund argue that such a policy could pass constitutional muster, if very careful drafted, though such a measure would likely have “modest” effects on public safety.

From their conclusion:

Statutes requiring gun owners to carry liability insurance could be written in a way that would not violate the Second Amendment, but there are many constitutional pitfalls in such an undertaking. Such regulations could easily be used to impose disguised taxes, penalties, and prohibitions on gun ownership, to discriminate in favor of some law-abiding gun owners at the expense of others, or to promote overcharging by insurers supervised by state regulators eager to score political points with gun control advocates.

Nevertheless, a properly drafted regulation would do more good than some of the other measures that have recently been proposed, such as bans on so-called assault weapons and limits on the capacity of magazines for semi-automatic firearms. Such efforts to ban limited categories of politically unpopular devices are unlikely to have any significant effect on criminal violence or negligent behavior. A mandatory insurance regulation might at least have some effect in deterring negligence, though it would probably not be very great. Although such regulations hardly deserve to be among the highest of legislative priorities, they would increase the chances that those who suffer accidental injuries at the hands of negligent gun-owners would receive some compensation. If legislators who feel driven to “do something” about guns could be persuaded to adopt properly drafted mandatory liability insurance laws instead of other measures that are ineffective or unconstitutional (or both), that would be a better outcome for both public safety and individual liberty.

The article is adapted from their piece in the February issue of Engage: The Journal of the Federalist Society Practice Groups.

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