By Sean Walton
Gun owners across Maine would be subject to a first in the nation and potentially expensive new mandate just for owning a firearm under a proposal put forward by Rep. Janice Cooper of Yarmouth. The proposal will be considered by the Legislative Council of the Maine Legislature later this month before it can move forward.
Listed on the website of the Maine Revisor of Statute’s website is the proposed bill, LR 2645 “An Act To Require a Person Who Owns a Firearm To Purchase Liability Insurance.”
While several states have attempted to impose such requirements, no state has successfully passed the requirement into law. Supporters typically say that the measure will cut down on violent crimes committed with guns. Opponents strongly disagree.
Insurance companies and gun rights advocates both have opposed efforts in other states for numerous reasons.
Insurance companies say that while advocates of such mandates often talk about cutting down on violent crimes committed with guns, liability insurance does not cover intentional acts – only accidents. They say that puts the goals of supporters of the law at cross purposes with the principle of insurance. Insurance companies have also said that a new requirement would be costly and complicated.
Gun rights advocates have some overlapping concerns related to driving up the cost of buying or owning a gun – some firearm liability insurance proposals that have been put forward in other states or nationally would have required gun owners to show proof of insurance before being allowed to even purchase a firearm.
But the concept of paying to exercise a constitutional right, they say, amounts to an unconstitutional infringement before any discussion about the cost of insurance comes into play.
“This is just another in a long line of ‘do something’ attempts by the socialist left to make owning a gun so onerous that they hope people will opt not to. A solution to a non-existent problem. I can’t think of any other right protected by our constitution that requires insurance to exercise,” says Bruce Ashmore, a member of Gun Owners of Maine, a vibrant and effective grassroots organization focused on defending gun rights.
“The Second Amendment doesn’t end with “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed, if you have liability insurance,” he says.
Further, skeptics question how such a law could be enforced. Would the government create a registry of gun owners and monitor their liability insurance?
Unlike car insurance, which is only required for vehicles on public roads, firearm liability insurance would presumably be required at all times, even when firearms were locked away for months or years on end.
The penalty for not having adequate insurance could also be steep. In 2013, a Representative from New York proposed a law that carried a $10,000 fine for individuals who sold a firearm to someone without adequate liability insurance.
Another bill in the New York State Senate would have required gun owners carry $1 million in liability insurance coverage.
Mayor Sam Liccardo of San Jose, California earlier this year proposed requiring residents of his city purchase liability insurance for their firearms. Liccardo argued that taxpayers had “subsidized gun violence” by not requiring residents to insure their guns or pay an alternative fee.
In a Washington Post op-ed, Liccardo admitted that the insurance requirement would not stop criminals, saying, “Of course, “the crooks” won’t pay a fee or buy insurance; only law-abiding gun owners would.” Still, Liccardo argued, that the requirement would serve as a deterrent.
Bruce Ashmore agrees that liability insurance won’t stop criminals from committing crimes.
“Laws like this have zero effect on criminal activity. Felons, murderers and abusers are not going to stop using firearms due to lack of finding coverage before committing crimes. So, who does it apply to?
“It will only apply to those who are already not a problem,” says Ashmore.
The deterrent effect Liccardo believes in, however, would likely serve to make law-abiding individuals in low-income, high-crime areas and high-risk situations less safe.
The outcome that Liccardo and others in support of the liability insurance mandate and “robust” fees as a deterrent almost certainly would have is one where many lower-income Americans and battered spouses fleeing violence would not be able to purchase a firearm for self-defense.
“It will force Grandpa that has owned and used guns for the last 70 years to now pay a fee to keep his squirrel gun. It will cost the single mother living out of town, barely scraping together enough to live, to pay a fee to keep protection in her home,” says Bruce Ashmore. “The senior citizen living on SSI who keeps a pistol to protect his prescription drugs from the local druggies. These types of laws always hit those with the least the hardest, making them decide whether to pay the insurance or get food or pay their rent.”
Another aspect of the Rep. Cooper’s proposal that is certain to be questioned is simply the need. Four years ago, a bipartisan coalition of Mainers passed a bill that was referred to as “Constitutional Carry” arguing that because Mainers have a constitutional right to bear arms and to defend themselves, they should not be required to obtain a government permit to carry a firearm.
In the four years that followed, Maine’s crime rate has not spiked, as gun control supporters predicted and Maine was recently named the safest state in the nation.
“We live in the safest state in America and consistently have the lowest violent crime rate and guns are an integral part of our lives here,” says Ashmore, pointing to recent news reports that Maine is now the safest state in the U.S.
Widely regarded as a state with one of the highest rates of gun ownership, and now known as the safest state in the country, he says that makes Rep. Cooper’s proposal “A solution to non-existent problem.”
No other state currently requires liability insurance for firearms, and some states are actively trying to undermine and drive out voluntary insurance programs for gun owners, insurance that has been derided as “murder insurance” by anti-gun activists.
From the perspective of those who defend gun rights, that amounts to a nearly impossible double bind.
“So they want us to get insurance and at the same time make that an almost impossible thing to do,” says Ashmore, saying that the proposal is another attack in a ‘death by a thousand cuts’ strategy.
“We need to make our opposition to such onerous laws loud, public and definitive. We will not go quietly away,” he says.
For the Maine Legislature to consider the bill in the 2020 session, the Legislative Council must approve the bill by a majority vote. The Legislative Council is made up of the ten members of House and Senate leadership. Senate President Troy Jackson Chairs the council, while Speaker Sara Gideon serves as Vice Chair.
Gideon has been a strident supporter of several gun control measures, while Jackson, who represents a more conservative district in Aroostook County, has been more reserved.
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