No Ohio push for gun insurance

Drivers must carry liability insurance on their vehicles, so why not require similar coverage for gun owners?

That’s apparently the thought behind a proposed California law that would force anyone owning a gun to buy liability insurance to cover damages or injuries caused by their firearms.

Other states, including Pennsylvania, Maryland, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New York are considering similar bills in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings that left 26 dead in Newtown, Conn., last December.

California lawmakers who introduced the proposed legislation say the law would help encourage gun owners to take safety classes and to lock up their firearms in order to obtain lower insurance rates.

There’s no similar measure being proposed in the Ohio General Assembly, said Rep. Andy Thompson, R-Marietta.

“I’m not aware of any legislation in Ohio to require gun owners to purchase liability insurance,” he said. “We already have plenty of laws on the books to hold people responsible if a shooting occurs. But this also sounds like a way to raise the cost of owning a gun as well as opens the door for trial lawyers to file more suits.”

Thompson also noted that insurance companies may not want to be placed in the position of “holding the ball” to provide such liability coverage.

“It’s not something I would likely support as it seems it would provide further erosion of people’s second amendment rights,” he said.

Although the proposal is being considered in other states, none have enacted the requirement, in spite of repeated previous attempts, according to Jon Griffin, a policy analyst with the National Conference of State Legislatures.

He said bills have been offered unsuccessfully in Massachusetts and New York since at least 2003, when the conference began keeping track. Similar bills were proposed in Illinois in 2009 and in Pennsylvania last year. But lawmakers are introducing the bills this year in even more states after the recent shootings in Connecticut.

Cutler resident Lori Saunders said liability insurance for gun owners would make sense in case of an accidental shooting.

“My husband and I do not hunt or have guns at our house,” she said. “But we do have to keep our swimming pool under our homeowner’s insurance in case there would be an accident. So it would make sense for gun owners to have similar coverage.”

But Saunders added that she did not believe the insurance requirement would make much of a difference when it comes to shootings.

“People are supposed to have insurance coverage for their cars, but many apparently still drive without it,” she said.

Carol Mitchell of Marietta agreed liability insurance makes sense for gun owners.

“It would probably be a good idea,” she said. “We own guns, and my husband says we’re covered under our homeowners policy.”

While some homeowners’ policies do cover accidental shootings, people currently have a choice of whether they want to be covered or not. But the proposed California legislation would mandate every gun owner to have the liability coverage.

Russ Tuten, executive director for the Fort Harmar Rifle Club, questioned the need for gun owners insurance.

“I’m not sure it’s actually needed,” he said. “I do know some people who have had shooting accidents, but I believe they were covered by their homeowners policy. And as for liability, what if someone steals your gun? Are you liable if they shoot someone?”

As a certified National Rifle Association instructor, Tuten said he is required to carry liability insurance.

“It can cost several hundred dollars a year, but the NRA advises instructors to have the coverage,” he said.

Tuten said it appears states like California are introducing mandatory liability insurance for gun owners because they’re trying to get some kind of law on the books after the Connecticut school shootings.

“I’m all for keeping the conversation open on what can be done to prevent more shootings, but I’d like to see more about this liability proposal,” he said. “I think the insurance should be available, but not mandatory.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.