California lawmaker proposes requiring gun owners to be insured

Taking a nod from the city of San Jose, a California lawmaker on Thursday introduced a bill that would require gun owners to obtain liability insurance for the negligent or accidental use of their firearms. 

If enacted, SB 505, introduced by state Sen. Nancy Skinner, (D-Berkeley), would make California the first state in the nation to adopt such legislation.

"Guns kill more people than cars," Skinner said. "Yet gun owners are not required to carry liability insurance like car owners must. Why should taxpayers, survivors, families, employers, and communities bear the $280 billion annual cost of gun violence? It’s time for gun owners to shoulder their fair share."

Under the proposal, gun insurance in California would be similar to car insurance. Gun owners would be held civilly liable for property damage, injury, or death resulting from the use of their firearms. They would also have to obtain liability insurance that covers losses or damages resulting from negligent or accidental use of their firearm, including property, damage, injury or death and keep proof of their insurance with their gun. 

The hope is that gun ownership would become more expensive because of the extra insurance people would have to pay and require more safety features if people want to get a lower bill, according to Skinner's team. 

"When a gun owner calls their insurer to say, ‘Look, I need liability insurance now,' the insurer is going to say, ‘Where do you keep your guns,’" Skinner said. The more questions the gun owner can answer proving to the insurance company that the gun is being kept safely will mean a lower insurance rate.

 "That's just going to increase safety and lessen gun violence," Skinner said. 

Skinner’s bill comes in response to recent mass shootings in Uvalde, Texas; Buffalo, New York; and Tulsa, Oklahoma, even though it's acknowledged that this legislation will likely not stop these kinds of events, especially when assault rifles are used.  

The bill is being amended into SB 505, legislation that had been authored by Sen. Bob Hertzberg, D-Van Nuys, on a different topic.

Earlier this year, the city of San Jose became the first city in California to pass a law requiring gun owners to obtain liability insurance. The state of New York is also considering gun insurance legislation.

Mayor Sam Liccardo said the proposals are modeled after public health approaches that have reduced auto-related deaths, tobacco use and teen pregnancy.

If Skinner's bill passes, it will also surely be contested.

In January, the National Association for Gun Rights and gun owner Mark Sikes sued San Jose in federal court after City Council members voted to approve the ordinance believed to be the first measure of its kind in the United States. 

"The law is unconstitutional," Harmeet Dhillon, an attorney representing the plaintiffs, said  at the time. "The law compels people to purchase insurance that doesn’t necessarily exist and that demonstrates that this law is not a good faith attempt to do anything other than ban or burden the lawful possession of guns."

However, gun reform advocates say getting sued is worth it, pointing to polls that show more than 80% of Americans support tougher gun safety legislation.

Since 2013, gun deaths have soared 83% nationwide. According to a recent study, gun deaths now outnumber motor vehicle fatalities in 34 states. In addition, guns now kill more children and teens in the U.S. than auto crashes.

California has some of the toughest gun control laws in the country, and since 2005, gun deaths have declined in our state by 10%

By contrast, Texas and Florida have some of the weakest gun laws in the nation, and their gun deaths have shot up 28% and 37%, respectively, during the same period.