“You cannot insure yourself for arson.” Robert P. Harwig, President of the Insurance Information Institute, NY Times, 2013-02-21
The absurdity of the laws of gun ownership in the United States is never more clear than when you enter into a discussion of insurance policies.
Did you know that the families of Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris were sued for millions of dollars after the Columbine massacre? Their insurance companies paid the claims.
Wait a minute– there’s a liability there? How can that be?
If it is legal to own guns why should there be any liability when they are used as intended? If they not used “as intended”, why should the parents and the parents’ insurance company be liable but not, say, the company that sold all the weapons to Klebold and Harris?
My question is, why? Why should the insurance companies pay out? They should say, you live in a world in which easy, unimpeded access to firearms is a fundamental right. By voting for the same politicians year after year, you have affirmed your approval of this state of affairs. You accept the risk of Columbine, and there will be many more, as the price to be paid for this access to guns. Why, now, are you unhappy with the result? Why should we pay you?
All right– you object to the word “intended”? You still want to believe that the purpose of a gun is for hunting or self-defense? So the mass murderers are using the guns as “not intended”? But isn’t the insurance policy a test of exactly that idea?
And isn’t the idea that killing a room full of people with a high powered rifle is a capability and potential “not intended” by the manufacturer and seller of the gun absurd? Of course it’s intended to kill! Of course it’s designed to shatter human flesh and bone! Of course it’s intended to paralyze and disfigure! That’s the exact thing that sells guns, the fantasy of invoking it’s power in rage and delight, like in the movies, when Bruce or Clint or Arnold or Sylvester looks satisfied and says something vaguely iconic like “if you’re going to shoot, shoot. Don’t talk.”
Some insurance companies, apparently, will cover you for “self defense”. But such coverage, of course is unnecessary, because you will not have done anything wrong, even if the person you are defending against was merely coming up your driveway to ask you for directions.
Let’s not get confused here: I am not excusing criminal behavior. I have no reason to think that you might have reason to think I am doing that, but some gun nut out there is already muttering it under his breath. Furthermore, did anything I said sound like “let’s lock up law-abiding citizens”?
If the law is that you can’t have a gun, then so be it: you aint “law-abiding” anymore.
There is no way in the world that the U.S. would be able to keep mentally deranged people from owning a gun. Firstly, there are far, far, far more mentally deranged people out there than is commonly imagined. Secondly, the same people in favor of this idea are hysterically averse to taxes, especially the big tax hikes that will be required to even begin warehousing all the potential mass killers out there.
And the same people who believe that only law-abiding citizens will register, if registration is required, have a rather touching belief that locking people up after they commit a crime– for longer periods– will magically prevent them from having committed the crimes in the first place.
I don’t think Klebold said to Harris on the morning of April 20, 1999, “but what if we get caught?”
Harris: “We’ll be in BIG trouble, that’s for sure.”
In March, 1998, a Jefferson County detective, in response to complaints from the parents of a classmate, Brooks Brown, initiated the process of obtaining a warrant to search Eric Harris’ house. This investigator had checked out Harris’ website on which he made public threats and advocated violence and murder. He forgot to finish the task though. But after April 20, the Sherriff remembered to not tell anyone about it until 60 Minutes uncovered the fact two years later.
Christians love to cite the (apparently false) story of a girl who said she believed in God being killed by Harris or Klebold. They call her a martyr and proof that prayer belongs in the schools. They don’t like to tell you about Robyn Anderson, a Christian, who purchased three of the guns used for Klebold. She was never charged. And, yes, thanks to her, many prayers were said in school.
Mark Manes, on the other hand, was sentenced to 9 years(1) for selling his Tec-9 to Klebold. Why the disparity. Did the police like Robyn? She is a cute blonde. She is a Christian. Why on earth did Manes receive 9 years– really, a rather savage sentence, considering the big fat nothing that other people with some responsibility for Columbine received…
If this investigator was liable in some way for what happened, because he was aware of the threat, but did nothing, why isn’t the gun shop merchant who sells a man hundreds or thousands of rounds? “Hunting sparrows, are we?”
The other thing made clear by Klebold and Harris, though, is that no amount of screening for mental illnesses will snag clever, composed psychopaths like Eric Harris, who was very astute at manipulating the criminal justice system (his parole officer thought he was exemplary), and would probably be even more successful at manipulating psychologists.
[Incidentally: Harris was on Fluvoxamine, an SSRI anti-depressant at the time of the shootings. I guess, in the words of General Turgidsen in “Dr. Strangelove”, it might be unfair to condemn the entire program just because of one little slip-up. But let’s get something else out there concerning “myths” of Columbine: Klebold and Harris were, in fact, bullied by other students. At one point, a group of them tossed ketchup-coated tampons at Klebold in the cafeteria, and Harris was regularly mocked for his physique. Both were ridiculed for their poor athletic skills.]
In 2005 Congress passed a law (The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act or “PLCAA”) giving immunity to gun manufacturers and sellers against any liability for how their product is used no matter how defective or just plain stupid they are. Aside from the comical name– “Protection of Lawful Commerce”, as if the law itself is not what makes it “lawful”), this is surely some cruel joke on the families of victims of gun violence.
Let’s go one better: guns are also exempt from The Consumer Product Safety Commission. Why on earth is that? Because they are so safe?
According to the article cited above, at least 250 children aged 14 and younger have been killed by “accident” a a result of a gun being left unprotected in a home or vehicle.
[I can hardly believe one of the stories: a father bought his 3-year-old boy a .22 rifle and tried to teach him how to use it “safely”. He was killed instead. The boy’s mother testified that the boy “knew better” than to do that. As a letter-writer to the Times said, why is a person required to have liability insurance on his or her car, but not on his or her firearm?]
No other industry in the entire United States has this very privileged position. It should be repealed and the legislators who voted for it should be sacked. Not only because sane people don’t want any guns around, but because the law is massively stupid. If a wild-eyed orange -haired gentleman were to enter a gun shop and ask for a semi-automatic gun and 5,000 rounds of ammunition because “somebody’s going to pay”, there should be a legal obligation on the owner of that shop to not arm this man to the teeth. Or, even more ridiculously, if a handgun blows up in someone’s face, he should damn well be able to sue the maker of that defective gun.
And, just to humour Republicans, if a registered NRA member is confronted by a gay immigrant jihadist burglar and his gun fails to go off– well, he should have recourse, don’t you think? The gun was defective. It didn’t kill someone.
In 2004, some families, of victims of the Beltway shootings, sued the manufacturer of the rifle used and received about $2.5 million. That was brilliant.