In Our View: Taking Aim at Bottom Line

Insurance risk pool convinces county its employees should leave guns at home

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When it comes to insurance providers, the bottom line is the bottom line. Insurers aren’t much interested in ideology or political philosophy or conservative vs. liberal or constitutional debates. No, they are interested only in risk assessment and liability and the potential costs if something goes wrong.

That cold, emotionless, just-the-facts approach has played a role in a recent discussion by Clark County commissioners regarding the county’s gun policy. Last month, commissioners temporarily lifted a ban on county employees bringing concealed weapons to work, so long as the employees owned a permit for concealed carry. County policy previously had prevented employees from carrying weapons, even in buildings where the general public could legally do so. “As I read the state law, and as I understand the U.S. Constitution, we don’t have the authority to restrict permitted gun owners from carrying concealed weapons into these areas our policy restricts,” Commissioner David Madore said in discussing the policy change. Legal precedent, however, had affirmed the county’s right to enforce such restrictions.

Now, commissioners have reversed course. They decided last week to revert to a policy prohibiting employees from carrying weapons to work. The reason? The bottom line.

The Washington Counties Risk Pool, a consortium of counties that band together in order to purchase insurance at cheaper rates, decided that having more guns in county buildings was not a cost-effective idea. “The risk pool had a concern about employees having concealed weapons, even if they had a license,” said Chris Horne, Clark County’s chief civil prosecutor. In other words, the risk pool, which weighs liability against the cost of risk prevention, decided that having employees carry guns would be more problematic in the long run than having them not carry guns. That the risk of having a wrongful shooting perpetrated by an employee who was legally carrying was greater than the risk of a citizen entering a county building and shooting somebody.

One factor in the commissioners’ decision to backtrack on the gun policy is an ongoing dispute between Clark County and the risk pool. As part of a settlement with two men who had been wrongly convicted and imprisoned, county officials allowed the men to sue the risk pool for as much as $24 million. The risk pool said that decision violated Clark County’s agreement with the pool and has threatened to kick the county out of the consortium, which would greatly increase insurance rates. That dispute has nothing to do with the gun policy, but it does have county officials acting contrite when it comes to the Washington Counties Risk Pool.

For now, that is. If Clark County eventually is ejected from the Washington Counties Risk Pool, commissioners’ motivation for changing course on the gun policy theoretically would be eliminated. It is conceivable they could reverse their reversal and allow legally licensed employees to carry guns to work.

We would argue against that. While many people would recommend that one way to prevent bad guys with guns from shooting up an office is to have more good guys with guns, the evidence suggests otherwise. If two mass shootings at Fort Hood in the span of five years and another at Washington Navy Yard in the District of Columbia prove anything, it’s that the presence of guns is not a foolproof deterrent. In a very real way, insurance officials agree — the risk is greater with more guns in the workplace than with fewer guns in the workplace. And that’s the bottom line.