David Rhea looks through the scope of a gun at Roberson’s Sporting Goods Monday morning in Madison Twp. New legislation introduced in the House of Representatives would require a person to carry liability insurance before being allowed to purchase a gun. This is the second time the The Firearm Risk Protection Act has been introduced by U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-New York.

Proposed bill would mandate liability insurance for gun owners

A bill that would require gun owners to carry liability insurance is being reintroduced by one of Congress’ most outspoken gun control legislators.

U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-New York, said the Firearm Risk Protection Act “makes more sense” as gun violence is killing as many people as car crashes. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, firearm deaths (including suicide, homicide and accidental) in 2013 were at 33,636, which is a slight increase over the more than 32,200 in 2012.

“The results are clear: car fatalities have declined by 25 percent in the last decade, but gun fatalities continue to rise,” Maloney said. “One reason is that auto insurance incentivizes precautions that reduce accidents, and make crashes less deadly. No similar incentives exist for gun owners.”

The proposed bill would prohibit the sale or purchase of a firearm if the buyer is not covered by liability insurance. And not having or maintaining the insurance would come with a $10,000 fine, according to the bill.

Maloney said an insurance requirement would allow the free market to encourage cautious behavior and help save lives.

“Adequate liability coverage would also ensure that the victims of gun violence are fairly compensated when crimes or accidents occur,” she said.

Gun rights supporters, however, argue the bill infringes on Americans’ Second Amendment rights. And National Rifle Association spokeswoman Jennifer Baker said the premise of the argument is flawed as gun-related violence “is at an all-time low.”

Baker said Maloney is creating “a solution in search of a problem.”

“What she failed to mention is that unlike automobile fatalities, most firearms fatalities in the U.S. result from the uninsurable acts of intentional criminal behavior or self-inflicted acts, not accidents,” Baker said.

The majority of deaths related to firearms are suicides — which are on the rise — and not homicides, according to the CDC data. In 2013, more than 21,000 suicides were firearm-related, and more than 11,200 homicides involved a firearm.

Baker added the vast majority of firearm-related deaths are not caused by law-abiding citizens. This legislation “is merely another thinly disguised attempt” to impose firearm reforms Americans have already shown they don’t want, she said.

According to a Pew Research Center poll from December 2014, more people (52 percent) support gun rights over gun control (46 percent).

Baker said the NRA does support liability insurance, but only as an option, not a mandate. The gun-advocacy group does offer its members the perk of purchasing personal firearms liability insurance for unintentional injuries caused during hunting, trapping or shooting.

David Rhea, a Madison Township business owner, said he does “see the necessity” for liability insurance, but doesn’t have a strong opinion one way or another.

“I can see the pros and cons to that,” Rhea said during a visit Monday to Roberson Sporting Goods on Germantown Road to purchase ammo and look at a gun.

He said the pro would be in the case of an accident and the con would be the potential of infringing on the right to bear arms.

Don Roberson, Jr., owner of Roberson Sporting Goods, called the bill “a veiled attempt to circumvent a person’s Second Amendment rights.” He said some people can “barely afford” a gun much less the cost of insurance.

“If somebody restricts that in the form of causing them to purchase insurance, that’s restricting your ability to purchase a firearm,” said Roberson, whose grandfather started the business in downtown Middletown in 1935. “Other people may see it differently. It’s very obvious to me that it’s just an attempt to sidestep it.”

He also believes it’s an attempt to make it harder to buy a weapon.

“They’re not saying you can’t have one, but you’ve got to do this, this and this before you can get one,” Roberson said. “You need to get rid of the criminals, not the guns.”

Maloney, who is arguably Congress’s strongest advocate for gun safety reform, previously attempted to introduce this bill in the 113th Congress. The bill, however, failed to make it out of the House subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations.

The legislation in 2013 received partisan support from colleagues in the Democratic Party, and thus far with its re-introduction Democrats are the only ones co-sponsoring this bill. The bill was sent to the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, just as it was two years ago, but has yet to be assigned a subcommittee.

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Photojournalist Nick Graham contributed to this story.