How Free Societies Deal With the Problems of Mass, Indiscriminate Shootings


It is with a very emotional and heavy heart that we look upon the recent and tragic killings in Colorado as another instance in a legacy of public shootings. One particularly terrifying property of these shootings is that the participants are generally random and the killers don’t have any particular emotional or relational attachment to the victims, making them potentially anyone in the entire country. That this particular one happened at a venue which advertises an evening of leisure watching a great new action flick, where the situation which actually occurred was horrific and catastrophic to all those who had the unfortunate run-in with a crazed gunman on July 20th of this year.

This was a very large incident given the close proximity and constricted walkways and the number of people in the theater, and 12 people were killed and 59 wounded. Another instance of a violent shooting in Colorado was Columbine where 14 students were killed in April, 1999. Nor is the phenomena restricted to Colorado; there have been many other shootings and violent crime in our past. There was the Washington DC sniper who shot people walking around in parking lots, and he created severe apprehension for people who were simply walking into the store as they always did to purchase food or whatever else they need. Combined with school shootings, mall shootings, and other violence, clearly, this is a problem.

But what is there to do? Most people turn to the State, asking it to increase it’s efforts to minimize the casualties. An emphasis is put on security, and soon there are more government mandated people ruffling through everyone’s things as they pass through the business owner’s doors. An example was the recent TSA which evolved as a result of another violent situation: 9/11. The thought goes: if we can just catch every single gun, maybe we can stop these people.

I propose a different view of solutions to these problems. First, please understand that a free society is predicated and built upon property rights. Property rights fundamentally come from the ownership of the self; I would argue that all external property, e.g. houses, cars, computers, surf boards, and anything else people own is derived from the original concept that they own themselves. Therefore, anyone claiming to be able to determine the outcome of a person’s property, i.e. their self and body, so long as it does not coincide with that person’s own determination of that outcome, is wrong.

Let’s look at a specific example to see why this is the case. I am going to assume that everyone in the theater that evening was perfectly happy with their bodies in the current condition as they were when they entered the theater. They did not go there expecting to be perforated by bullets. Their preference is such that they do not die. The other party involved, the gunman, had a preference of killing them. These two preferences or wants are in direct contradiction with each other, and the outcome of one cannot possibly include the outcome of the other.

So either the gunman gets to shoot or the people in the theater get to retain their lives, but not both. Logically we know that the only moral outcome of this situation is such that the gunman should not be a gunman at all and never attempts to attack others with violence. A universal declaration of the opposite, that anyone may shoot other people and override other people’s preferences of not wanting to be shot, would lead to chaos. But, given the reality of the potential for this situation to occur, what is a movie theater and a theater goer to do?

Enter insurance companies. Insurance companies have a primary responsibility of both paying claims out for and mitigating certain undesirable future outcomes. If someone loses an arm, the insurance company pays out a claim of whatever was agreed upon by the company and the policy holder. As such, companies may find it profitable to provide incentives to their clients to mitigate those risks; they might offer lower rates for a vehicle that keeps the owner contained inside the vehicle while charging high premiums for vehicles which are open to the air and at risk for people with limbs outside of the vehicle to have them crushed. These incentives reduce risk by encouraging people to practice safe measure by offering these lower rates, and therefore they reduce the risk of them having to pay out claims because people wanting to take a higher risk pay more in premiums and do not have a dominating effect on the company’s pool of capital or outgoing policy payments. Those who want to take a lower risk approach anyways benefit from the lower rates.

But why don’t insurance companies exhibit this type of behavior now? Bear in mind that free market insurance companies would have little resemblance to the current State regulated and quasi-monopolist insurance companies we have now. Free market insurance companies have to meet the demands of their consumers or face the fact that they could switch to another organization. While that does happen in our current system, the current insurance companies gain the benefit of reduced or stifled competition who are hindered by the same rules the current companies are able to surmount. Others may not be able to do so and, as such, have no ability to draw new customers towards them or even get started as businesses.

The game changes when competition and the fluid, dynamic vicissitudes of the market are opened up. Customers finding lackluster service or over priced companies are free and mobile to switch to new companies almost instantly. Insurance companies have a trust relationship with their clients to maintain; additionally, other companies are opening up and offering better deals or lower prices or higher quality all the time. The current environment is also hampered by the insurance company’s dependency on our financial system, which is itself entirely fraudulent and based on the shifting sands of Keynesian money theory and fractional reserve banking.

What could insurance do to reduce crime? Insurance companies providing property protection services would be a logical and ideal step in protecting against shootings. They are paid a premium to pay out claims if a shooting occurs, and they can take measures to mitigate the risk of having to pay out those claims if a shooting does occur. Though insurance should always be a very personal appraisal of individual behavior and history and cannot be broadened to large groups, there are necessarily three different “types” of individuals who we can look at regarding insurance coverage in the recent theater shooting’s case.

1) The business owner / employees

It should be obvious that any business owner wants to reduce violence on their property. Violence scares off customers, reduces willingness for customers to browse or buy, and also endangers employees and requires an increase in their wages to assuage their fears of being shot while working for you. They also wish to avoid any sort of legal obligation they would have to their customers by allowing them into a place that was not secure. Their liability for their customers is a risk to them. For this, the insurance company would provide peace of mind by offering to pay out the claims the theater might have; in the case of a shooting, insurance money may include the damage to the building, damage to the individuals in the theater and their family member’s losses, and losses felt from bad publicity.

In reality, the insurance company doesn’t actually want to pay out these claims. Any instance of violence increases the rates they must charge to people, because a more frequent paying out leads to less capital. Paying out too many claims increases rates being charged and leads to fewer customers as those companies better at mitigating risk are able to charge lower rates and thus gain the unsatisfied customers. They can offer incentives to the business owner to reduce the potential of that happening. Perhaps having security cameras or alarmed exit doors or automated turrets or something would reduce the potential of these situations occurring. Any theater which implemented these measures could benefit from lower insurance premiums, which is an effective way to encourage people to increase security.

Insurance companies might ask that they station their own defense agents inside or nearby to a large, bustling movie theater. They might monitor the area for disruptive or erratic behavior; this would of course have a cost to the insurance company but would be reflected in the prices they charge. Companies who agreed to have this agent stationed here would see lower insurance rates; the increased cost of stationing someone might be lower than the cost of the risk of actual violence occurring.

Businesses might also want to know information about their clientele before they even walk in the door. Information about potential criminals or unstable people would likely be communicated to business owners with some form of identification or insurance card exchange. Uninsured or high risk people might be declined a movie ticket at the request of the theater’s insurance company given the very real risk of a violent outburst. Or, requirements of this individual attending a theater might include the escort of a hired, defensive agent to watch him, obviously increasing the ticket cost to the individuals who are potentially violent but reducing the risk that they actually exhibit violent actions and hurt others.

All of these measures are voluntary ways businesses, through insurance, may reduce crime and hopefully reduce the frequency of public shootings.

2) The theater goer

As a casual viewer of a movie, people want security against being shot. In and throughout their day, getting shot is not usually high on their list of priorities. In a free society, individuals can purchase insurance from companies to protect them from violence.

It might be found out by insurance companies that a reduction in crime comes from encouraging people who are low risk and have a long history with the company and are well educated in the use of and safety of guns to carry them in the theater while watching movies. While a gun in the hands of unstable people is obviously a higher risk to violence, guns in the hands of people who are trained to protect themselves and others reduce the risk of being shot. While people generally call for an increase of legislation to reduce the number of guns or gun owners, no one would think that disarming all the police officers would somehow “increase security”. Obviously, trustworthy individuals can safely carry weapons and be of aid when an emergency situation arises.

Insurance companies might offer lower rates to these individuals provided that they would act accordingly and understand the safety to the other people involved. A situation mitigated by a person responding directly and immediately is generally superior to the response time that occurs when the insurance agency is further away from the situation, and reduced risk means fewer policy claims paid out. Other ways to encourage reduction in risk is to offer lower rates for going to approved theaters. Companies could compile lists of higher and lower risk theaters and offer rates to individuals based on whether they attend the higher or lower risk places. Lower risk = lower price policies.

Since most of these people are a low risk, normal going to work and enjoying life kind of person, the rates for this individual would likely be low and lower still based on their own actions to decrease that risk. Rates for high risk people, like crazed gunmen, is entirely different.

3) The crazed gunman

Finally, the last group on our insurance list is the gun man. As it would likely be that a free society would require some insurance company to vouch for you or provide some sort of guarantee of your calm and peaceful actions, I very much doubt that people willing to pick up guns and shoot others would be insured or allowed nilly-willy into any theater they came across. It would likely be very hard for them to do business with anyone; agencies which did do business with high risk people would also be high risk by association, which would lead to higher prices for their own insurance.

Going into a restaurant without insurance would be a very high risk scenario for everyone in the restaurant. How do they know what you will do? How do they know you will be able to pay out claims if you do engage in violence? Insurance would likely be checked at entry by most establishments; this is a way insurance companies can mitigate risk while decreasing rates. Those without insurance or those outside of the list of accepted insurance pose a high risk; they might have to pay a higher entrance fee to get into the business or might be watched scrupulously.

Insurance for children would likely offer lower rates to parents who exhibited behavior known to not increase violence in society. There are many studies which link criminal behavior to the treatment or abuse of children during their early years of life. Insurance companies can reduce risk by encouraging parenting practices which raise a child non-violently and which teaches them to respect property and people and to be emotionally whole and stable. Parents who refused insurance for their children or engaged in high risk behavior would also have their children placed into a high risk pool, and they would be flagged in the same way that red flags appear to potential employers when they are figuring out whether to hire someone.

Summary: Unleash Insurance

A free, unrestricted and unhampered market in the provision of defense services, both foreign and domestic, would have a very beneficial effect. It would reduce the waste of government services which rely on force for income and therefore have little to no accountability to their customers, who are not free to leave the government service and contract another agency. It would reduce the risk of criminals by offering incentives to put that reduction into action. It would reduce the cost of insurance through that reduction of risk. Fully privatizing the service of defending persons and property would increase the security, happiness, and overall wealth of everyone.

What’s incredibly important to note about this type of system is that, since insurance is all about paying claims, victims of violence will always receive some sort of recompensation for their loss given the contracts they have with insurance. That simply doesn’t happen today; the best hope of a family who is a victim has is that the criminal is thrown in jail for which the victims have to pay for anyways. Free societies and insurance companies offer direct financial recompensation immediately to victims, with the insurance company likely to go after the criminal to recoup some of it’s losses by financial demands either of the criminal’s insurance company or the criminal individually. While there is currently no example of a free society anywhere, with an understand of economics and philosophy we can make one.

Lastly, I want to say that if we want to be a self aware and self actualized people, we must also extend the fear and sadness and empathy we feel by this tragic event of the movie theater killing recently in Colorado to those people currently under siege by our and other militaries/governments around the world. They deal with their houses, businesses and loved ones being blown up and destroyed on a daily basis. Let’s have some empathy for them and call off our own and all military violence against others, recognizing that these people also have the right to decide their own preferences for their own lives and property. I don’t see any difference morally between a crazy man with guns indiscriminately shooting people and government approved militaries indiscriminately shooting people, except that the gunman likely didn’t force other people to finance his training and equipment acquisition.

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