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Gray not backing gun owner insurance proposal
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Prospects that the District will become the first jurisdiction in the nation to require gun owners to purchase liability insurance were dampened Thursday when Mayor Vincent C. Gray made known that he does not support the proposed legislation. The bill requiring insurance was already receiving a tepid reception during a D.C. Council committee hearing when the deputy commissioner of the city's Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking testified that the mayor does not believe there is a "persuasive argument to support the need for insurance for firearms in the home." Insurance executives and D.C. gun owners protested the insurance bill, which would require gun owners to maintain liability policies of no less than $250,000 in coverage in order to cover "any damages resulting from negligent acts, or willful acts that are not undertaken in self-defense." Grappling with how gun insurance policies would be feasible, insurance representatives advised against including "willful acts" among those actions that would be covered through the Firearm Insurance Amendment Act. "The idea of mandating liability insurance for potential acts really challenges sound public policy," said Eric Goldberg, vice president of the American Insurance Association. "We'd be allowing individuals to escape the financial consequences of their intentional acts merely because they purchased an insurance policy." Some form of insurance is needed to pay for victims' injuries and compensation, said Dan Gross, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. "It is absolutely unfair to saddle innocent victims with all the costs of a shooting when someone else's action or inaction helped cause the injury or death," Mr. Gross said. "We would not tolerate such a system with automobiles. And we don't." But throughout the hearing, dissenters routinely came back to the same unanswered question: How much would gun insurance cost? Though at least nine states have weighed the possibility of requiring gun insurance, none have adopted such a mandate, leaving insurance companies in a lurch to try and determine the appropriate costs and associated risk factors. "Gun violence is something we don't have an ability to assess as a risk," said Erin Collins, of the National Association of Mutual Insurance Company. "It would be extremely difficult to price." Gun owners worry that with only a small pool of people to insure — at the hearing it was estimated that approximately 2,000 people have legally registered firearms in the District — the rates could be astronomical. "My main concern is the cost," said Ward 5 resident and gun owner Kris Hammond. "For an individual of limited means that could be quite a burden on their rights." Noting that unless the proposed law also capped the insurance rate, "one catastrophic event" could be all it would take to dramatically raise insurance premiums, Mr. Hammond said. "This is not beyond our ability to figure out, is it?" D.C. Council member Mary M. Cheh, Ward 3 Democrat and the bill's sponsor, asked during the hearing before the council's Committee on Business, Consumer, and Regulatory Affairs. "It would be a forecast and the probability of your forecast being accurate will be questionable," the city's deputy commission of insurance, Chester McPherson, said. If there was a national firearm insurance system, Tom Harvey, author of Gun Insurance Blog, estimates coverage would equate to approximately $15 per gun. Organizations such as the National Rifle Association already offer insurance policies for gun owners. Personal liability plans between $100,000 and $250,000 offer coverage for bodily injury or property damage. Plans offering self-defense insurance cover injuries and damage as well as civil and criminal court costs, as long as the policyholder is acquitted of criminal charges or the charges are dropped. A policy with the highest coverage for both types of insurance would cost $254 annually, according to the NRA. Though Mr. Gray did not support the bill, D.C. Council member Vincent B. Orange, the business committee chairman, was not convinced the bill should be discarded entirely. "By going through this process it's clear to me that intentional acts probably should not be included in this bill, but I'm not convinced that negligent acts should not be taken off the table," said Mr. Orange, at-large Democrat. Insurance representatives insisted it was not feasible to create and market firearms insurance. "If there was a market for it, and they could make a little bit of a profit, they would have done so," Mr. Goldberg said.