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Children and guns: Time to stop this deadly mix

REUTERS/Jim Young
Some insurance companies already request information about gun ownership in connection with the issuance of insurance to homeowners.

On Dec. 5, 2012, Kao Xiong placed a loaded gun under a pillow in the bedroom of his South Minneapolis home. Kao Xiong’s 4-year-old son unearthed the gun and proceeded to engage in child play with his 2-year-old brother, Neegnco. That resulted in a gunshot killing Neegnco. Because of the negligent storage of the firearm, Kao Xiong was convicted of manslaughter and child endangerment. A dead child … a parent convicted … a father and mother whose grief knows no limits … a family’s world turned upside down and a prosecutor brought to tears by the easily preventable loss of an innocent child.

Robert Moilanen

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, there are approximately 10,000 shootings a year in the United States involving “youth.” Often those shootings involve adolescents employing stolen weapons. When statistics focus on “accidental shooting” by children ages 0-11, the Gun Violence Archives reports that 137 such accidents have occurred thus far this year. The American Academy of Pediatrics further reports that “… a gun in the home is forty-three times more likely to be used to kill a friend or family members than a burglar or other criminal.” They also report that “depressed preteenagers and teenagers commit suicide with guns more frequently than by other means.”

The goal: removing children’s access

Awareness by gun owners that they can be convicted for carelessly storing firearms serves as a deterrent. However, society’s goal is to avoid such convictions by ensuring that children never access firearms — not merely to highlight the importance of proper gun storage through after-the-tragic-fact prosecutions of careless gun owners. Some jurisdictions have laws designed to prevent these tragedies by mandating safe storage of firearms and locking devices. However, to be effective, the state may have to engage in inspection and enforcement processes that appear impractical.

Gun-control advocates in Minnesota are working to reduce gun violence. Lobbying campaigns directed at legislators are largely focusing on background-check legislation. Such legislation attempts to ensure that, before consummation of the sale/purchase of a firearm, those suffering from mental health issues or with criminal histories receive greater scrutiny. While background-check legislation may help address horrific shootings like those that occurred in Aurora, Newtown and Charleston, it is currently getting no traction in the Minnesota House of Representatives. Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center, is steadfastly refusing to hold hearings on any gun-control legislation. A deeply divided Legislature is, once again, trying to focus elsewhere. The time is right to look at approaches outside the legislative process.

Liability insurance

In other states, efforts to curb gun violence include proposals designed to require gun owners to carry liability insurance. The logic behind these measures appears compelling: If you are required to carry liability coverage when you drive a car, why not require liability insurance for owning a more dangerous device, namely, a gun? Then, in the event a gun causes an injury, the injured party would have an avenue for relief. Further, a market is created because, presumably, premium prices would fluctuate based on the competency of the gun owner.

Today, a gun owner’s decision to obtain liability insurance is optional. One political problem with “compulsory” proposals is that gun owners are repulsed by the idea of paying increased costs to exercise their constitutional “right” to own a gun. It is difficult to visualize Minnesota mandating liability insurance in the current political climate. However, people — including those who advocate gun rights — do not want children playing with loaded firearms. Notwithstanding the controversy surrounding a liability insurance “mandate,” Minnesota’s insurance marketplace could still help promote this societal goal by complementing existing law.

Minnesota regulates the insurance industry through its Department of Commerce. The department oversees insurance products, including homeowners’ insurance policies. The department has broad regulatory authority with respect to the insurance industry. Its powers include licensure, examination and enforcement. Specifically, the department can “hold hearings” or “conduct examinations” to “compile information” related to its duties and responsibilities. Therefore, the department could immediately hold meetings with the insurance companies it regulates to “compile information” on the current interface between gun ownership and homeowners’ insurance policies.

A small step to ask about gun safety

Some insurance companies already request information about gun ownership in connection with the issuance of insurance to homeowners. This information is primarily sought in order to assess the value of a homeowner’s personal property. In connection with such inquiries, it would be a small step for companies to also inquire about the safety activities engaged in by the gun owner. Are the guns properly stored under lock and key? Is there a locking device on the firearm? Does the gun owner engage in training programs?

Insurance companies reward for mitigation of risk. For example, the installation of an alarm or sprinkler system is likely to reduce the insurance premium one pays. “Good driver discounts” are routinely promoted by insurance companies. Safe gun storage also mitigates risk. However, instead of promoting safe gun practices to mitigate risk, it appears that insurance companies merely cap that risk by limiting the amount of money an insured party can obtain in the event of a loss.

Potential discount or rebate

We can hope that the vast majority of Minnesota gun owners are taking reasonable safety steps to avoid having guns misused or stolen. If so, a nudge by the department to the industry it regulates could make responsible gun owners eligible for a “gun safety discount” on their homeowner policy. Providing a discount or rebate to responsible Minnesota gun owners for the safe storage of firearms should be embraced by all Minnesotans. Imagine insurance companies competing by offering discounts or rebates on insurance premiums for responsible and safe practices by gun owners.

This is hardly a new discussion. In 2013, the CEO of State Farm stated that gun ownership could be considered by insurance companies in assessing risk factors, but “… whether someone owns a gun doesn’t necessarily make them a risk … the bigger debate is: Are people competent in gun ownership.” The exploration of this “debate” is long overdue in Minnesota.

On a federal level, a dysfunctional Congress has caused the president to proceed to take action by executive order. Under existing statute, the Minnesota Department of Commerce is positioned to promptly convene meetings with insurance carriers, gun right advocates and gun control advocates to see whether a market can be developed to provide incentives to responsible gun owners. The department can then report on the prospects of using the insurance marketplace to create an environment promoting gun safety activities and, whether additional legislation is necessary.

It is time to place policy over politics and executive action over legislative inaction. While this approach only addresses a small part of the broader debate relating to gun violence, over time perhaps we can avoid reading about tragedies like that suffered by the Xiong family.

Robert Moilanen is a Minneapolis attorney whose practice has involved both public and private sector representation.

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Comments (22)

  1. Submitted by Daniel Gardner on 04/15/2016 - 09:59 am.

    Article – Mr. Moilanen

    Mr. Moilanen is spot on. As almost everyone knows, the national NRA policies are only supported by about 25% of their members. The other 75% are very interested in anything that will help keep our kids safe. Regarding right-wing Mr. Cornish, no surprise there. He panders to his majority and that sometimes interferes with what is common sense for most people. THANK YOU Mr. Moilanen for sharing your thoughts and talents with the readers. Dan Gardner

  2. Submitted by joe smith on 04/15/2016 - 10:36 am.

    Protecting your family should be priority 1.

    if you own a gun it your responsibility to keep it stored safely and teach your children how to respect the power of firearms. If you have to be paid to teach those lessons you shouldn’t have either children or guns.

    • Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 04/15/2016 - 12:06 pm.

      But the data show that gun owners put their guns before their own families’ safety–that’s what NRA-instructed gun owners try to cover up by saying what “responsible” gun owners “should do.”

      They don’t do it. So, I like this idea of getting the insurance market involved. If a child–yours, gun owner, or mine who visits–is present in a house where the owner has a gun or two or ten, that automatically makes the children less safe, statistically. And, boy! is there any other industry that pays actuarial attention to statistics like the insurance industry? Great idea here! Greater risk means higher premiums.

      • Submitted by joe smith on 04/15/2016 - 02:36 pm.

        No Constance

        That is what I and millions of other gun owners do so that folks like you never hear about us or even know we own guns. The NRA didn’t teach me those simple lessons, my father who fought in WWII and saw all the violence guns can do, taught me those lessons in the 1950’s. As I stated, if you need financial incentive to protect your family from the guns you own, you shouldn’t have a family or guns.

        • Submitted by Pat Berg on 04/17/2016 - 10:58 am.

          Should and shouldn’t

          That’s a nice thought, but “should” and “shouldn’t” is not compelling in any real world way. How do you propose enforcing your idealistic viewpoint about what responsible gun owners “should” and “shouldn’t” do when it comes to the safety of children in the home before the fact instead of waiting until another one is injured or killed?

          • Submitted by joe smith on 04/19/2016 - 12:59 am.

            Simple

            You do what responsible gun owners have done for 300 years. You put your guns where young children can’t get to them, then when they get old enough you show them how guns work and how to handle them safely. That is responsible gun ownership. I have been around guns for my whole life and was taught by my dad to respect and use guns safely. Not “idealistic” just plain simple gun safety ever gun owner should teach his children…. so simple you don’t even need Big Government…. imagine that??

            • Submitted by Pat Berg on 04/19/2016 - 08:20 am.

              That’s not enforcement

              How do you enforce this behavior for non-responsible gun owners? Or do we just keep shrugging it off when more children get killed? “Oh, too bad s/he wasn’t a more responsible gun owner!”

              • Submitted by joe smith on 04/19/2016 - 12:44 pm.

                So now we are going to legislate non-responsible folks??

                Does that include non-responsible parents for not taking an interest in their child’s eduction, does that include the able bodied 22 year old that won’t get a job, does that include the non-responsible 25 year old that won’t pay back his student loan, does that include the non-responsible 30 year old that got a loan they couldn’t pay off (thanks to legislation passed to get same person the loan) for a house they couldn’t afford on a no money down loan, how about the non-responsible illegal alien that didn’t go through the system to get to USA, how about the non-responsible teacher that can’t be fired because of teachers union (sorry that require Going against Dems biggest partner), how about the non-responsible guy who goes to the bar every day but not to work ????? Where do you want to start and stop with legislation for non-responsible folks? How about personal responsibility? I understand the left’s need to have Big Government control their lives (they don’t feel themselves or others are capable of doing that themselves) just don’t control mine!

  3. Submitted by Jim Botko on 04/15/2016 - 12:48 pm.

    Insurance for gunowners

    This is a terrific, clearheaded look at some of the problems caused by overwhelming gun ownership. Bringing insurance premiums into play can help stem the tide of gun violence a bit. This should be implemented along with other legislation making it simply harder to get guns in the first place.

  4. Submitted by Mark Crist on 04/16/2016 - 09:23 am.

    Insurance for gun owners

    Accidental gun deaths have been declining over a large number of years, in large part due to safety training conducted by the NRA and other groups and safe storage programs run by the gun industry.
    Gun owners who negligently store their firearms can already be held criminally and civilly liable. Members of gun control groups often talk of liability insurance with the goal of making gun owners responsible for gun violence. However liability insurance doesn’t normally cover intentional acts such as assault and murder.
    So this liability insurance would only cover unintentional shootings. Something that accounts for a very small percentage of injuries and deaths caused by misuse of guns.

  5. Submitted by Terry Elliott on 04/16/2016 - 10:16 am.

    First, let’s dispense with the notion that expanded background checks could have stopped ANY of these horrific shootings that took place. From Virginia Tech on, the vast majority of these people passed a background check. And in the case of Newtown, the kid shot his mother in the face and took her guns.

    Second, liability insurance that gun owners may purchase helps defray legal costs in the case of a justified shooting to protect one’s life. There’s no liability insurance that will pay out when someone uses a gun to murder someone, rob a bank, or otherwise use the gun in commission of a felony. So how is this a “solution?”

    Third, none of these proposals address the lion’s share of gun tragedies. Remember, 63% of gun deaths are suicides (FBI, 2014). And 40% of the murders in this country are done by 6% of the population– black youths. They won’t be buying any liability insurance, thank you.

  6. Submitted by Jim Million on 04/16/2016 - 12:02 pm.

    Typical View

    This author ends his narrative by advocating remedy by decree rather than by analysis and discussion. Mandating the irresponsible of society to be responsible is rather naive. Is this article about hand guns at home, or more about unilateral mandates? The irresponsible will likely remain so.

    Yes, very responsible people do have accidents. That is why we call them “accidents.”

    I would like to see an effective responsibility survey with data subjected to regression analysis; otherwise, I defer to the State Farm CEO. Until a proper actuarial schedule is developed to price risk, the potential risk cannot be insured.

    Attorney Moilanen might have prepared a more coherent brief before bringing this to the court of MinnPost opinion. It’s a good effort, but clearly lacks understanding of realities.

    Should not the objective of this piece be to propose incentives for the irresponsible to become responsible?

  7. Submitted by Kevin Vick on 04/16/2016 - 05:01 pm.

    Facts Rather Than Agendas

    Since the inception of the Eddie Eagle GunSafe Program by the NRA in 1988, the rate of firearm accident deaths between the ages 0-14 has dropped 85%. There were 278 in 1988. In 2014 it was 14. (CDC)

    How many child gun deaths has Bloomberg’s Moms Demand / Everytown and the Brady Campaign’s gun safety programs prevented? Zero. Why? Because they don’t invest one penny in gun safety training. Astonishingly, when the federal government recently granted the NSSF (National Shooting Sports Foundation) monies for their youth gun safety programs, Everytown went apoplectic voicing their “outrage”. How dare anyone teach gun safety to youth!

    So, the NRA, NSSF, and the DNR, among others, provide gun safety training programs for children that work, as demonstrated by the CDC data. Conversely, Bloomberg and his astroturf organizations do nothing to teach gun safety to anyone let alone “the children”.

  8. Submitted by Kevin Vick on 04/16/2016 - 05:09 pm.

    Civil Rights

    So, which other civil rights will citizens be required to have liability insurance for, speech, religion, assembly?

    • Submitted by Pat Berg on 04/20/2016 - 10:31 am.

      I don’t know . . . .

      I don’t know. How many of those result in dead children?

      • Submitted by Kevin Vick on 04/22/2016 - 08:43 am.

        Which civil rights….

        Well, let’s see, the first – religion and speech, the fourth – unlawful search & seizure (think door kicking) to name but two more.

  9. Submitted by joseph olson on 04/16/2016 - 05:36 pm.

    Read Minn. Stat. sec 609.666 which deals with this subject. It was enacted by the DFL legislature in the early 1990s..

    • Submitted by Pat Berg on 04/17/2016 - 11:11 am.

      After vs before

      That legislation deals with remedies after the fact – i.e. defining the level of offense AFTER a child has been able to obtain a gun (for the parts of that very long cite that deal with guns and children).

      Mr. Moilanen’s idea proposes to go at the problem BEFORE it occurs, thereby minimizing the chances that any part of Minn. Stat. sec 609.666 (where it relates to children) should ever need to be brought into play.

      • Submitted by Kevin Vick on 04/17/2016 - 06:17 pm.

        Before vs after

        Remedies occur “AFTER” said crime has been committed and adjudicated. How would the proposed “new” legislation provide remedies any differently? You need to think that through a bit.

        Following your logic, knives, prescription drugs, over the counter medications, household cleaners, chisels, razor blades, power tools, fuels, and top heavy dressers, to name but a few, all require the same “remedies”. It would then follow that you are in favor of warrantless home entries for pre-crime inspections/enforcement, yes?

        • Submitted by Pat Berg on 04/19/2016 - 08:31 am.

          That’s the point

          Mr. Moilanen’s idea doesn’t require any legislation. The Department of Commerce regulates the insurance industry in Minnesota, and – from the article – “The department has broad regulatory authority with respect to the insurance industry.” So the offering of a “gun safety discount” on the homeowner policy of a responsible gun owner is a “before the fact” measure that would not require additional legislation. It’s really not all that difficult to understand with a careful reading of what the article proposes.

          • Submitted by Kevin Vick on 04/22/2016 - 08:38 am.

            Legislation

            Sorry Pat, Mr. Moilanen specifically cites legislation, not insurance. It’s really not all that difficult to understand with careful reading of what his post proposes.

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