Mass shootings are rare in other [than the US] parts of the developed world, but they do happen. In March 2009 a 17 year old youth took a handgun left out by his father’s bedside and killed 15 people in and around his school in Germany. The shooter, Tim Kretschmer, then shot himself. As you might guess, the families of the victims have sued Kretschmer’s family for making the gun available. The shooter’s father was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and has sued a Weinsberg psychiatric clinic which had found no signs that Tim Kretschmer could be a danger.
The Kretschmer family had 2M€ (about $2.7M US) of liability insurance from Allianz, an insurance company, which has paid the money for division among the victims. The company confirmed the payment Feb 4.
This is little enough compensation for victims’ families, who have lost their precious children and will never recover from the anguish that was produced; but it may create some helpful sense of justice and repay some of the expenditures made in bringing victim families back to whatever level of balance and function they have been able to achieve.
This insurance payment would not happen in the United States.
Personal liability insurance here, with the exception of automobile insurance in some states, is viewed an optional protection for the purchaser of the insurance. That it may serve to provide funds for compensation of persons injured is view by insurance companies as only a byproduct of selling the insurance. There are typically terms in homeowner’s insurance, the usual vehicle for personal liability insurance in the US, that exclude intentional acts on the part of “the” or “an” (the distinction is legally important) insured person or define an “occurrence” to be an accident only.
Insurance industry spokespersons have widely stated that “insurance does not and cannot cover intentional and criminal acts.” Even if most current insurance of some types is written to exclude payments for such acts, it is highly misleading to suggest that this is generally the case or that must be so in an insurance mandate for gun injuries. Of course, it is against public policy to make payments directly to criminals for criminal acts; but there is no such problem for payments that go to victims. Suggestions that these payments are to be excluded as indirectly benefiting perpetrators have been repeatedly rejected by the courts. Many kinds of insurance in common use today do make such payments when an insured person creates an injury by means of a criminal act. They do so because they are designed and intended to do exactly that.
Shortly after the first mandate for motor vehicle insurance went into effect in Massachusetts, the famous case of Wheeler v. O’Connell , 297 Mass. 549 (1937), established that, in light of the intention of the insurance mandate, a victim of intentional injury was entitled to collect from the compulsory motor vehicle insurance.
This was later extended to include even cases where the driver was convicted of murder. Most states and courts since have seen such cases in this way, even in the absence of specific language. The mandate itself establishes this coverage but explicit terms in both the law and the policies are better in the interest of clarity. Other kinds of insurance are privately designed to protect third parties or additional insured persons from wrongful acts by insured persons. The most common is ordinary homeowner’s or other fire insurance with a mortgage clause. The mortgage holder is paid if the home and insurance owner destroys the property in an act of arson. This, no doubt, evolved at the insistence of mortgage holders.
There are kinds of insurance that have as their whole reason for existence the protection of the public or customers from crimes by the party purchasing the insurance. Many performance and professional bonds are of this nature. These examples and many others show that it is possible to adopt a system of compulsory insurance that is designed to pay all victims of the insured firearms and do so in instances where the injuries were the result of any intention and by any person.
We should adopt a requirement for compulsory gun insurance that protects victims like we have for every other activity with built in dangers. Opponents typically have two objections; one is the issue above and the other is that “criminals won’t buy insurance.” The way to deal with that objection is to require the insurance for guns in legal hands have a term which keeps the insurance in effect if the gun changes hands, by any means including theft, unless the new owner takes out replacement insurance. Insurers will react to such a requirement by checking that new owners have insurance before allowing a transfer and by discouraging practices that expose firearms to theft.