A homeowner without an alarm system may pay more for home insurance because his house has a higher risk of being burglarized. So, does a gun owner pay more for home insurance because a gun raises the risk someone will be shot?
Insurance industry experts say "no," but some lawmakers and gun advocates are taking steps to protect gun owners from higher insurance rates in the future.
Home insurers don't charge gun owners more for insurance, says Michael Barry, a spokesman for nonprofit trade organization Insurance Information Institute. "In fact, few, if any, home insurers will even ask the policyholder if they own a gun, or plan to house one in their residence," Barry says.
Gun accidents and home insurance
If someone gets hurt or killed because of an accidental gun discharge in the home, your home insurance policy will likely cover it just as it would cover other instances in which a person is injured inside of your home, Barry says.
But accidental discharges constitute a small percentage of overall shootings in the United States, Barry points out. In 2011, accidental discharges accounted for less than 3 percent of firearm deaths in the United States -- or about 850 deaths -- according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
With intentional discharges, it’s not so simple. Say you shoot an intruder inside of your home. Many home insurance policies have what’s known as “intentional injury exclusions,” which means they don’t cover any intentional act of damage or harm, according to the International Risk Management Institute.
However, just because insurance companies say they don't charge higher rates to gun owners for home insurance doesn't mean everyone believes they won't try to do so in the future.
In Florida, state Rep. Matt Gaetz and state Sen. Tom Lee each introduced legislation that would make it illegal for insurance companies to charge higher rates to gun owners. Lee's bill ultimately passed in April and it’s set to go into effect July 1. The bill states that an insurer cannot cancel a policy or charge higher rates because the homeowner or a member of the household owns a gun.
How much liability insurance is enough?
While home insurance offers some liability coverage for damages caused by firearms, some question whether it is enough. A typical home insurance policy offers a minimum of $100,000 in liability insurance, which covers injuries or property damage of others in your home. However, if you shot and killed someone, a wrongful death lawsuit could possibly be brought against you.
If you lost the case, you might be responsible for attorney’s fees, medical costs the victim incurred, and even damages to the victim’s family to compensate for the loss of the deceased person’s expected income. All of that could easily top $100,000. For example, Shiver Hamilton, a law firm in Atlanta, reported winning a wrongful death settlement in an apartment shooting for $1.4 million dollars.
While you can increase the amount of liability insurance, some insurers cap that amount. For example, Travelers lets homeowners buy up to $500,000 in liability insurance under a standard home insurance policy.
Lawmakers in a number of states are exploring whether gun owners should be required to buy a certain amount of liability insurance to cover costs associated with shooting injuries or fatalities.
- Legislation was introduced in New York in January 2014 that would require gun owners to carry at least $250,000 in liability insurance.
- In Connecticut, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy released recommendations for gun safety reforms and asked that studies be done about whether it would be feasible to require gun owners to buy additional liability insurance.
Alternatives to extra liability insurance for gun owners
While gun advocates such as the National Rifle Association (NRA) are against mandatory liability insurance, many support the idea of gun owners having the right to buy more insurance if they want to. One option for doing so is to buy an umbrella policy, which provides liability coverage that exceeds a standard home insurance policy.
Another option is to buy specialty insurance. For example, the NRA works with insurance provider Lockton Affinity to offer its members personal firearms liability insurance, which protects gun owners for up to $1 million in liability suits if they accidently cause someone harm while hunting or at private shooting ranges.
Other coverages offered through Lockton Affinity include self-defense insurance, which protects gun owners from liability charges if they shoot someone at home while protecting themselves, and retired law enforcement officer self-defense insurance, which protects retired and off-duty officers from liability in self-defense cases.
Specialty firearm liability policies typically cost between $130 and $300 per year, according to the Insurance Information Network of California.
How to insure expensive guns
Not only might gun owners want more insurance to protect themselves from liabilities, but they may want more insurance for their guns themselves. Home insurance typically places limits on how much an insurer will pay for destroyed, damaged or stolen property, so if you have a gun collection or your firearms are particularly valuable, you may need additional coverage. Say your valuable firearm collection is stolen. Your home insurance policy may only pay up to $2,500 for the loss, even though your collection could be worth $10,000. Some home insurers will let you purchase a rider, an addition to an insurance policy that provides extra coverage.
Another option is to purchase firearms insurance from a specialty insurer. For example, Sportsman's Insurance Agency offers nationwide coverage not only for the replacement of guns but also the replacement of firearm accessories, such as cases, extra barrels and rifle scopes.
"Our customers tell us frequently that their homeowners insurance agency just doesn't understand the specialty firearms market," says Bill Stephens, a spokesman for Sportsman's Insurance Agency. In fact, some customers have complained that their home insurance provider "balked at insuring expensive firearms," he adds.
Another benefit to buying a separate policy from a specialty insurance provider is not having to worry about your home insurance policy going up if you file a claim for your firearms.