L.A. County considers requiring gun owners to buy insurance

In the wake of the terrorist attacks that killed 14 people in San Bernardino, Los Angeles County officials are considering toughening local gun regulations, including a possible requirement for gun owners to buy insurance.

The supervisors voted Tuesday to ask county lawyers, public safety and mental health officials to report back on proposed gun control measures along with other options to "further prevent violence and improve safety in the workplace and public settings."

As part of that request, they asked for an analysis of ways to "adopt stricter gun control restrictions and penalties," including further background checks, a potential local tax on guns and ammunition, and an insurance requirement for gun owners.

The insurance policy would be similar to car insurance, making payments to offset the costs to victims and public agencies if the policy-holder's gun is used to injure or kill someone.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who proposed exploring the policy, noted that accidental shootings as well as gun crimes are costly to public agencies.

"If you have a car, it has to be insured," he said. "It puts more of a burden of responsibility on the owner."

A proposal to require gun owners to buy insurance was introduced at the federal level this year, but no states or local California jurisdictions have adopted such a requirement, experts said.

Adam Winkler, a law professor at UCLA who studies gun laws, said the insurance requirement could reduce accidents and suicides by getting people to store their guns more securely or to purchase "smart guns" that can be fired only by authorized users.

But Winkler said he did not expect an insurance requirement to have a significant effect on gun crime.

He also said the constitutionality of such a requirement is "not crystal clear," and it would probably be challenged in court.

Allison Anderman, a staff attorney at the San Francisco-based Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said there were several California cities that require gun dealers to carry special insurance, but none that require owners to do so.

In recent months, Anderman said her group has noted an increase in local gun control measures, including safe storage laws, limits on magazine capacity and requirements that gun purchases be videotaped.

Gun owners objected to the county proposal.

"Are law-abiding gun owners to be punished for the acts of criminals?" Stan Roy, an Antelope Valley resident who said he is a National Rifle Assn. certified shooting instructor, asked the supervisors. "Are we to think that people committing armed robberies, rapes and homicides are going to pay for insurance?" 

Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich asked that the county's attorneys look into the constitutionality of the potential gun measures.

Also in reaction to the attacks in San Bernardino, the board voted Tuesday to issue statements expressing their condolences to the victims' family and friends, while condemning hate crimes that have targeted Muslims and people perceived incorrectly to be Muslims, including the vandalism of mosques and a Sikh temple in Southern California.

The supervisors wrote that "the terrorists who committed these acts, motivated by violent religious and political extremism are to blame, and that no religion or race or ethnicity is responsible for these acts, and that fear-based stereotyping and scapegoating creates an atmosphere conducive to Islamophobia, xenophobia, discrimination, hate, and bigotry."


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