Gun ownership is a very serious responsibility. Most licensed gun owners are conscientious and informed about gun laws and their rights and responsibilities under those laws. Many people own guns as a means of protecting their family and property. But even the most responsible gun owner can be faced with an unfortunate incident that leads to a lawsuit or even criminal charges. The costs to defend yourself in either case can decimate your finances.
There is an increasing need for gun owners to protect themselves after accidentally or purposefully discharging a firearm, even in an act of self-defense.
Protection Options for Gun Owners
Gun owner insurance is actually a variety of insurance products developed specifically for gun owners. You may encounter it under names like concealed carry insurance, CCW insurance, personal firearm protection insurance, self-defense insurance, or stand your ground coverage. The name of the product is far less important than knowing what it covers, and what it does not. It is important to assess the type of coverage you might need, and find the product that gives you peace of mind.
Large insurance companies have for the most part steered clear of offering CCW insurance, fearing any association with the controversial topic of gun violence. But gun owners looking for concealed carry insurance still have several options.
There are only a few insurance companies that offer gun owner insurance. The products vary significantly in terms of what they cover and the amount of coverage they offer (dollar limits or caps on coverage). Some policies, for example, will not offer coverage if you are charged with a crime. Others may provide coverage for court costs, but won’t cover your initial attorney retainer.
Gun owner insurance is available through certain gun owners’ associations and some small, regional insurers. Most gun owners are interested in policies that protect them in cases of self-defense and accidental discharge, so most of the policies offered will fall under names like concealed carry insurance or self-defense insurance. The likelihood of being involved in such an event is very low, so the coverage is typically very affordable—perhaps only $150 to $600 per year depending on the plan you choose.
Here are some typical self-defense insurance offerings:
· Legal defense services plans: This is not an insurance product, but rather a subscription to access a network of attorneys who specialize in defending self-defense cases. You pay a yearly fee, and the defense service is obligated to provide the agreed-upon legal services. They will help you hire an attorney that specializes in civil and criminal defense. The outcome of the trial has no bearing on whether they will provide the services.
· Concealed carry insurance: These insurance products provide coverage (up to a specified limit) for civil defense, criminal defense, defense attorney retainers, bodily injury and property damage expenses, and even lost wages for you while you are in court. These policies typically only provide coverage for acts of self-defense.
· Gun association policies: Some gun owners’ groups, such as the National Rifle Association, offer insurance with your group membership (at extra cost). These policies may cover your civil defense and damages, criminal defense, lost wages, and even bail bonds.
Gun Ownership in the U.S.
“A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”
The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was adopted on December 15, 1791. It protects the right of the American people to keep and bear arms.
Today, gun ownership remains high in the U.S.:
· In 2015, about 41% of U.S. households had at least one gun.
· Gun ownership has remained relatively steady since 1972, when 43% of American households had at least one gun.
· Gun ownership is highest in the South, with 51% of households owning one or more firearm in 2014.
· The East has the lowest concentration of gun owners, with only 31% of households owning one or more firearms in 2014.
All fifty states allow concealed carry of certain firearms in public by appropriately qualified and licensed individuals. Concealed carry, or carrying a concealed weapon (CCW), means carrying a weapon on your person in such a way that others cannot see it (such as in a bag or under your clothing). Concealed carry laws and regulations vary by state.
Some states also allow for open carry, which is visibly carrying a firearm on your person in public. Open carry laws also vary by state.
Why Do You Need Concealed Carry Insurance?
Insurance of any kind is designed to protect you from the unexpected. If you are forced to use your licensed firearm in self-defense, chances are it is just the beginning of a very serious set of circumstances. Even if you acted lawfully, you can be charged with a crime and forced to prove that you acted legally and within your rights to defend yourself or your property. You will need to hire an attorney, and if the case goes to court you will accrue a mountain of legal bills. Regardless of the outcome, defending yourself will be very costly.
Even if you are not charged with a crime, or if you are cleared in criminal court, you may still face a civil lawsuit seeking compensation for bodily injury or property damage caused by your gun. An accident or the act of defending yourself or your family could leave you with a seemingly never-ending pile of legal bills and related expenses.
Insurance companies and gun owners have recognized the need for an insurance product that can help protect you from the costs associated with criminal charges and civil lawsuits that result from the use of a firearm. Insurance products and legal service subscriptions are available that can help you pay your defense and other costs related to the following types of gun incidents:
· Self-defense: It is generally permissible under the law to use reasonable force to protect yourself or members of your family from bodily harm by an aggressor if you have reason to believe that you or your family members are in danger. However, any case of self-defense will be thoroughly investigated, and you may be charged with a crime and required to defend yourself in court.
· Negligent or reckless discharge: Most states prohibit the negligent or reckless discharge of a weapon, such as celebratory shooting or reckless target shooting. If you fire a weapon in a way that injures someone or causes property damage, you can be charged with a crime or sued in civil court for damages.
· Unlawful personal firearm use: If you fire your weapon under certain circumstances prohibited by gun laws (firing across a highway, firing from a moving vehicle), you can be charged with a crime or sued in civil court for damages to persons or property.
Does My Homeowners Insurance Have Any Type of Protection?
You might assume you have some coverage under the liability portion of your homeowners policy if you harm someone or damage someone’s property with your firearm. But in fact, most homeowners insurance policies specifically exclude coverage for “intentional acts” including firing a gun—even in self-defense.
Some homeowners insurance policies contain an exception to the standard intentional acts exclusion. This is often called the “self-defense” or “reasonable force” exception. It allows for coverage for bodily injury resulting from the use of reasonable force by an insured person who is acting in self-defense.
Keep in mind that most homeowners insurance policies do not include this exception. Even if your policy does have this exception, coverage will only apply if you are faced with a civil lawsuit. If you are charged with a crime related to the discharge of your firearm, you will be out of luck.
How to Find the Best Concealed Carry Insurance for Your Needs
Ultimately it is your responsibility to thoroughly investigate what type of coverage you need and which product offers the best protection. You may want to enlist the help of an independent insurance agent to help you understand your options.
Before you purchase additional coverage, find out if you have any coverage under your homeowners insurance policy.
It is important to know your state laws before you shop for concealed carry insurance. Does your state have a “stand your ground” law that protects individuals from being sued in lawful self-defense cases? If you are legally protected from being sued in criminal court, do you need coverage that protects you from civil lawsuits?
Learn about the different types of coverage available and decide what you need. Be aware that concealed carry coverage is always limited in some way. Most CCW insurance products will only pay a small fraction of what it will cost you to defend yourself.
Here are some things to ask about when purchasing concealed carry insurance:
· Does it cover both civil and criminal court cases?
· Does it cover attorney fees, court costs, mistrials, and appeals?
· Does it cover bail bonds?
· Does it cover investigation costs and witness fees?
· Does it cover an initial attorney retainer?
· Does it offer coverage across state lines?
· What is the coverage cap (the maximum amount it will cover) for each element of your case?
· Does it cover your spouse, or do you need to purchase additional coverage?
Remember that no state requires gun owners to have concealed carry insurance. In recent years, nine states have considered legislation that requires gun owners to purchase certain types of insurance, but none has been enacted.
Give us a call with any questions.