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Homeowner’s insurance covers gun owners for theft, liability

With Americans owning an estimated 270 million guns, the United States has more guns per capita than any country in the world. Most homeowner’s insurance companies companies view guns no differently than other personal property. They're covered in the event of theft or damage and, assuming no criminal negligence is found, most homeowners also are covered for liability claims related to gun accidents.

However, experts say that coverage does have limitations. Guns owners with extensive collections may not find the coverage against theft is not sufficient. And when it comes to liability, there can be some gray areas involving gun accidents.

Guns not an issue with most insurers

Any law-abiding adult in the U.S. who can pass an FBI background check is allowed to buy and own a gun.

gunAccording to a 2011 survey by Gallup, 47 percent of American adults reported that they had a gun in their home or elsewhere on their property. Joyce Shugg, personal lines manager at Eagan Insurance Agency in New Orleans, says she's never seen an insurance company ask a homeowner about guns – and this is typical protocol for all insurers.

Policyholders aren't obligated to notify their insurers if they have guns in their homes, Shugg says. For insurance purposes, firearms are treated just like other personal belongings such as cameras and appliances.

All this assumes that the weapons are legally owned by the policyholder – laws on gun possession and ownership vary from state to state. Some states, such as California, have limitations on high-powered assault weapons, but no states limit how many weapons someone can keep in his home.

In the event of theft, insurers care about the value of the guns, not about the quantity, Shugg says.

Guns covered in theft for up to a certain amount

Like any other personal property, guns are covered under standard homeowner’s policies for theft or damage. Coverage of guns is limited to a certain standard value as decided by the insurer, Shugg says. If guns are damaged or destroyed in a home fire, they're usually covered for their full value as stated in the policy.

A standard homeowner's insurance policy provides $1,000 to $2,500 worth of coverage for theft of the total number of guns in a home, Shugg says.

It's not uncommon for homeowners to maintain a collection of guns that surpasses an insurer's coverage limits. Keith Wells, an attorney with the Northwest Gun Law Group in Washington, says a recreational hunter with deer rifles and shotguns could own a collection that's easily worth more than $5,000. Anything beyond the insurance company's limit will have to be added individually, Wells says.

The cost of adding individual weapons to a policy varies by insurance company. Some may require a list of all weapons and types, while others may offer blanket coverage up to a specified dollar amount.

"It's typically added as a rider on your policy, just like jewelry, and varies by insurer,” Wells says.

Homeowner’s insurance coverage of weapons usually extends outside the home, Crosby says. This means that if weapons are stolen from a car or a hotel room, for instance, the gun owner could file an insurance claim.

Liability generally covered

If it’s not a criminal act, homeowners typically are covered for lawsuits that arise from any gun-related injuries or deaths that occur in their homes. If someone accidentally discharges a gun by mishandling or cleaning it, he could file a claim if someone is hurt or killed, Crosby says.

But what constitutes criminal charges can vary by location. If you're drunk or high while handling a gun and your action leads to accidental injury or death, you could face criminal charges. In some states, leaving a loaded weapon out in the open could be grounds for charges if a child injures himself with it.

To prevent accidents, gun safety experts recommend storing all firearms in locked safes or cabinets, especially when children are around.

How much liability you're covered for typically is capped; the amount could be as low as $100,000. That would cover being sued for a death or injury caused by a firearm. Crosby says that if you've got valuable assets to protect, such as your house, it may be worthwhile to purchase extra liability coverage.

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