In a church fellowship hall, more than 40 people sat down for a meal and learned about one of the options being explored to address gun violence and compensate its victims: liability insurance on guns.
“It’s extraordinarily relevant,” said Marcia Owen, director of the Religious Coalition for a Nonviolent Durham.
Owen asked five Duke University undergraduates studying public policy to explore the issue. They spoke about their work Thursday at the Shepherd’s House United Methodist Church on North Driver Street.
“The motivation is how do we respond to the needs that violence creates,” Owen said. “This isn’t about abolishing guns at all. It’s about honoring guns and what they do so well.”
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It’s also about acknowledging there are millions of guns in the United States, Owen said, and figuring out how to make people feel safer and to compensate victims’ families.
Currently, families may receive up to $5,000 for funeral expenses through the state’s Victims Compensation Services when a loved one dies as a result of crime.
Last week’s conversation follows a 16 percent increase in violent crime in Durham in the first nine months of 2015, compared to the same time last year. As of Friday, 36 people had died as a result of a homicide and about 167 had been shot in Durham this year.
Some of the local challenges, police have said, include a growing number of young people using firearms to solve conflicts and the illegal use of and trading of guns.
The coalition’s meeting was held the day after the shooting in San Bernardino, California, in which 14 were killed and 14 others injured. The shooting was the 335th mass shootings this year, according to the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.
The presentation by Duke students Sara Constand, Chloe McLain, Ashley Middleton, Elle Infante and Dorothy Wu said requiring owners to insure their guns, like car owners insure their vehicles, would face an uphill battle in today’s state and national political climate.
If the policy was written to mirror required car insurance, it would only apply to accidents, they said. It wouldn’t apply to intentional acts of violence, Wu said. The insurance policy would also raise questions about gun ownership affordability, and whether an insurance requirement, with premiums associated with risks, would unfairly affect poor people’s ability to legally own a gun, the students said.
It also would not apply to guns that were not registered and so might have a limited impact on gun violence.
Such a policy, however, could stem the illegal circulation of guns and encourage responsible gun ownership, the students said.
Just like some car owners may hesitate to give their car keys to a young driver, insured gun owners might be less likely to let someone else use their gun and more likely to lock it up.
“The idea is to make gun owners more responsible,” Middleton said.
While the proposal may be seem farfetched, the students said once were the ideas of mandatory health insurance and same-sex marriage.
Philip J. Cook, a professor of public policy at Duke University and co-author of “The Gun Debate: What Everyone Needs to Know” wasn’t at the meeting, but said in an interview there are many steps that communities can take to address gun violence without fighting the current political climate.
The pistol purchase permit requirement in the state is a key tool, he said.
In Missouri a similar law was repealed in 2007, and there was a jump in its gun-murder rate.
“I think we have a good regulation in place, and it’s important not to ignore that,” he said.
Other options for addressing gun violence that don’t require additional regulations include police and courts looking at illegal possession of guns as a serious crime, Cook said.
Looking down the road, some technological fixes could also help address gun violence, he said.
“A lot of us are waiting for the introduction of smart guns just to reduce the problem of gun theft,” and unauthorized use, Cook said. Smart guns have a safety feature that only allows firing by an authorized user. Some gun advocates oppose the sale of smart guns in the U.S. because they fear it could lead to requirements of the technology on firearms.
Vigil Thursday night
A candlelight vigil against gun violence, sponsored by the North Carolina Council of Churches, is set from 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 10, at Judea Reform Congregation, 1933 W. Cornwallis Road. See today’s On Faith column on page 8A for details.