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Student demonstrators in the rainy weather protesting outside of Coffman Memorial Union on Tuesday.
Photos from April 23 protests
Published April 23, 2024

Liability for gun owners

Gun owners should be required to buy liability insurance to cover the damage firearms cause.


The debate surrounding how far the protections of the Second Amendment really go has been framed in the light of mass shootings. Minneapolis was home to one such incident at Accent Signage Systems in September when an employee went on a shooting spree after being fired. Last week, the family of one of the employees who was killed filed a wrongful death suit against both the company and the estate of the shooter. The suit alleges that that the company was negligent in giving the shooter advance notice of his termination, for employing him for years despite poor performance and displaying signs of mental instability and for failing to have security on the day of the firing. Regardless of the outcome of the suit, it brings to light the idea of liability in gun violence incidents.

Economists describe the gun violence problem as a negative externality of gun ownership. When a gun is purchased, the consumer only considers their own value in owning the product but fail to account for the possibility that the gun could cause pain, death and suffering to others. With about 9,000 gun deaths in the U.S. per year, each of which could be grounds for a wrongful death suit, mandatory gun liability insurance would force consumers to account for the externalities of their purchases. 

Facing additional costs, perhaps the mother of the alleged Newtown gunman Adam Lanza may not have purchased the assault rifle used in the school shooting — or would have taken steps to reduce her insurance premiums like locking it up. Insurance premiums increase for unsafe behaviors or products, allowing economic incentives to discourage them — and therefore, prevent gun violence. Such legislation may also draw support from business owners as a way to reduce their risk from these types of suits.

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