Author’s note: This article will not delve into the reasons why people purchase a firearm, nor will it provide commentary on the Second Amendment. Instead, it will focus on the personal insurance ramifications of firearm ownership.
In an article dated August 24, 2020, the National Sports Shooting Federation (NSSF), estimated that nearly 5 million Americans have purchased a firearm for the very first time in 2020. Based on surveys of firearm retailers, the NSSF also found that 40 percent of all gun sales in 2020 were to people who have never owned a firearm. They also tracked firearm background checks from the FBI’s National Instant Background Check System and found a 71% increase in background checks when comparing January to July 2019 with the same time period in 2020. And while the stereotype of a gun owner might be a young white male driving a pickup truck, 58 percent of firearm purchases were among African American men and women – the largest increase of any demographic group. Women also comprised 40 percent of all first-time gun purchasers in 2020.
No solid numbers exist as to the total number of gun owners in the United States; however, a Pew Research study from June 2017 estimated that 42% of the population lives in a household with at least one firearm. This percentage is surely higher today with over 5 million new firearm owners this year.
Much like jewelry, fine art, or other collectibles, many insurance companies will allow you to “schedule” a firearm on your home insurance policy. But does coverage exist in a worst-case scenario in which you injure someone (or worse) while using your firearm? Does your home insurance policy provide you with liability coverage?
If you accidentally shoot yourself or a member of your household, the answer is “no.” If you shoot an intruder, the answer is “you have to read the contract.”
A review of the contract language of three different insurance companies reveals some interesting differences in coverage.
Company #1 excludes liability coverage for Expected or Intended Injury. However, the exclusion does not apply to “…bodily injury resulting from the use of reasonable force by an insured to protect persons or property.”
Company #2 excludes liability coverage for Intentional Acts, but coverage applies if “…the act was intended to protect people or property unless another exclusion applies.”
Company #3 excludes liability coverage for Expected or Intended Injury. Much like Company #1, the exclusion does not apply to “…bodily injury if the insured acted with reasonable force to protect any person or property.”
Of the three exclusions, it could be argued that Company #2 provides broader liability coverage than Companies 1 or 3. Note that both Company #1 and Company #3 provide coverage for “bodily injury,” but only if the insured used reasonable force to protect persons or property. Property can be replaced, but what if you have to shoot a home invader and one or more of your shots hits the neighbor’s house or car or pet? Coverage only applies to bodily injury, but not property damage. Since most policies consider pets to be property, accidentally striking your neighbor’s dog would not be covered.
More important than the property damage exclusion, Company #1 and Company #3 also reference reasonable force as a qualifier for covering expected or intended injury, but how do you define reasonable force?
When an insurance contract wants to limit the definition of a word or phrase, they will put “quotes” around that word or phrase and assign their own specific wording to the definition. Neither Company #1 nor Company #3 include quotes around the phrase reasonable force, leaving it very much open to interpretation. Company #2 makes no reference at all to reasonable force, only stating that the act must be “intended to protect people or property.”
Assume someone breaks into a person’s home while they are sleeping. The homeowner shoots the intruder and the intruder is seriously injured. Is there liability coverage for the bodily injury? Did the homeowner use reasonable force to protect themselves and their property?
This is where you may have to review state law regarding the justifiable use of force. In Illinois, the law reads as follows:
ARTICLE 7. JUSTIFIABLE USE OF FORCE; EXONERATION
Sec. 7-1. Use of force in defense of person.
A person is justified in the use of force against another when and to the extent that he reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to defend himself or another against such other’s imminent use of unlawful force. However, he is justified in the use of force which is intended or likely to cause death or great bodily harm only if he reasonably believes that such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or another, or the commission of a forcible felony.
Sec. 7-2. Use of force in defense of dwelling.
A person is justified in the use of force against another when and to the extent that he reasonably believes that such conduct is necessary to prevent or terminate such other’s unlawful entry into or attack upon a dwelling. However, he is justified in the use of force which is intended or likely to cause death or great bodily harm if:
Obviously, an attorney would need to be consulted at this point, but the State does provide for the justifiable use of force in defense of a person or property. In Section 7-1, the law also makes mention of a forcible felony, which is further defined as follows by the Illinois Compiled Statutes:
|Sec. 2-8. “Forcible felony” means treason, first degree murder, second degree murder, predatory criminal sexual assault of a child, aggravated criminal sexual assault, criminal sexual assault, robbery, burglary, residential burglary, aggravated arson, arson, aggravated kidnapping, kidnapping, aggravated battery resulting in great bodily harm or permanent disability or disfigurement and any other felony which involves the use or threat of physical force against any individual.|
Each of the crimes listed under “forcible felony” have their own specific definitions, too, so it should be obvious that using a firearm to defend yourself, your loved ones, or your property would create a very complex claim – well beyond the scope of your insurance agent to answer in terms of coverage.
With this in mind, are there other sources of coverage available? What if your insurance company completely excludes “expected or intended” injuries, with no exception made for reasonable force? Or what if you just want some additional protection in case the unthinkable happens?
An online search for “Self Defense Liability Insurance” revealed a number of different options for additional coverage, along with a detailed summary of six different concealed carry insurance programs, written by the editors of Gun Digest in January 2020. The article lists the pros and cons of each program, along with annual costs. And just like your homeowner’s insurance policy, the article stresses the importance of reading the contract before you buy. Any plan you review online should include a link to a sample policy, like this one. (This is not an endorsement of any plan, just an illustration of what a sample policy looks like.)
Some important coverage options to consider include the following:
Attorney Fees. Does the policy cover retainer, criminal defense, civil defense, and damages? If so, are expenses paid up front or on a reimbursement basis? Reimbursement policies are generally less expensive but include specific conditions that must be met before they pay.
Bail Bond. You may find yourself charged with a crime and later found not guilty. In the interim, if you don’t have bail bond coverage, you could be sitting in jail when you really need to be putting your affairs in order.
Coverage Across State Lines. Insurance and firearms laws differ from state to state. Confirm the policy’s coverage territory if you travel with a defensive firearm.
Expert Resources. Does the company providing or sponsoring the policy provide you with training in the proper use of a firearm? Do they provide you with a solid understanding of the self-defense laws in your state? Do they have an experienced legal team at your disposal?
The decision to purchase a firearm should never be taken lightly. Just as much or more time should be devoted to researching and planning for responsible ownership as is given to purchasing and practicing. It is extremely important to learn what coverage you have and don’t have from your homeowner’s insurance policy and to consider purchasing supplemental coverage that fits your needs and budget.