The Status of Gun Liability in the U.S.

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The Status of Gun Liability in the U.S. - Shamieh Law

Gun Liability is a Heavily Debated Topic in the U.S.

The discussion surrounding gun violence in the United States has been a contentious one, to say the least. Everyone seems to have a strong stance on the subject. The topic of constitutional rights always comes up, while many people are tired of offering only “thoughts and prayers.”

Many lawmakers are making an effort to reduce the rate of gun violence by pushing for new legislation and policies. In these discussions, the topic of gun liability comes up quite often. Some public officials have called for gun owners to carry liability insurance for their firearms. They believe that requiring gun owners to have liability insurance will help shoulder the costs of gun violence while reducing the level of violence.

The status of gun liability is spotty. No major U.S. insurance company offers separate, stand-alone gun liability coverage. While other insurances do offer some liability, the language about it isn’t particularly clear. Some of these policies do cover accidental shootings and self-defense, but you need to pay close attention.

The discussion surrounding gun violence and gun liability will continue to be a heavily debated topic for the foreseeable future. Shamieh Law will continue to keep a close eye on this subject as it progresses.

The Rate of Gun Violence in America 

32% of Americans report owning a gun, while 44% report living in a household that has a gun. That means millions of Americans have access to firearms. Many people have licenses to own and carry a gun, and they often treat them with the respect they warrant. However, there are just as many that don’t understand the danger these weapons present.

According to the FBI, there were 27 active shooter incidents in the U.S. in 2018. These incidents resulted in the deaths of 85 people (not counting the shooters), as well as leaving 128 wounded. However, these numbers do not account for all the acts of gun violence in the U.S. According to the Gun Violence Archive (GVA), there were 417 mass shootings in the U.S in 2019. There were also 1,837 unintentional shootings and 1,547 instances of defensive use.

As you can see, gun violence in the U.S. is a pressing issue. Because so many people have access to these firearms, these accidents are likely to occur. Understandably so, countless people (from lawmakers to citizens) want things to change.

The Push for Gun Liability

As mass shootings continue to plague our nation, more and more public officials are pushing for change to eliminate or at least reduce the amount of gun violence in America. Following the shooting at the Gilroy Garlic Festival in 2019, Sam Liccardo (mayor of San Jose, California) had seen enough.

Mayor Liccardo proposed a local ordinance that would require all gun owners to carry liability insurance for their firearms, which would be the first of its kind. Outside of Liccardo’s proposal, several state governments across the country (including Massachusetts and New York) have also attempted this.

Liccardo’s Proposal

According to Liccardo’s proposal, this insurance would cover “accidental discharge of the gun, and for the intentional acts of third parties who steal, borrow, or otherwise acquire the gun.” However, it would not cover intentional use nor use by sworn law enforcement.

If a gun owner cannot afford to purchase this liability insurance, they have the option to pay a fee instead. This fee would help cover the public costs of gun violence instead of costing taxpayers. These costs would cover emergency medical response, hospitalization and treatment, rehabilitation, physical therapy, prosecution costs, and much more.

Liccardo is aware that his proposal will not end gun violence. However, he hopes that it will compensate taxpayers for the damages it causes, as well as encourage gun owners to practice better gun safety. Along with his proposal, Liccardo also suggests a gun and ammunition tax that would fund gun safety courses, violence prevention courses, and services to help victims of gun violence.

According to Giffords Law Center to End Gun Violence, these acts cost the American economy nearly $229 billion each year, which includes $8.6 billion in direct expenses. Taxpayers and victims of gun violence almost always carry these costs.

Not only would a proposed gun liability insurance compensate the costs on taxpayers, but it would also help victims and families cope with the costs of the damages they suffered. Many public officials across the country are pushing for similar policies.

While gun liability won’t end gun violence, it can help reduce the rate at which it happens. Additionally, it would provide assistance to those most affected by gun violence.

Where Gun Liability in the U.S. Currently Is  

While there is a groundswell of support for required gun liability throughout the country, no major U.S. insurance company offers separate, stand-alone gun liability coverage. A handful of states (California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, and New York) attempted to pass legislation that would require gun owners to purchase gun liability insurance, but none were enacted.

On a federal level, Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY) introduced the Firearms Risk Protection Act in 2017, which would prohibit the purchase by or sale to someone who was not covered by qualified liability insurance. This liability insurance would cover the gun owner in instances that resulted in losses from the use of their firearm. However, neither federal nor state governments have enacted such laws.

Insurance Options

As it stands, you cannot purchase separate gun liability insurance from the majority of insurance companies in the U.S. However, most standard homeowners’ insurance policies do provide some property and liability coverage for firearms. You can also acquire additional liability coverage through a personal umbrella policy.

Every insurance company has its own policy, but most companies adopt the standard homeowners and personal umbrella policies that the Insurance Service Office (ISO) wrote. The policy (known as an HO-3) mentions firearms as property that is covered if stolen. However, the policy does not explicitly mention guns in the liability section, implying that it would cover firearm liability.

The policy covers accidents, such as if your firearm accidentally shoots and injures someone. It does not cover “expected or intended injury,” such criminal acts (homicide or attempted homicide). Although this policy excludes acts that intend to or expect to cause harm, some policies do offer coverage in cases when bodily injury or property damage is caused by the use of reasonable force by the insured to protect themselves or their property.

Umbrella Liability Insurance

Personal umbrella liability insurance handles liability in the same way your homeowners’ insurance does. However, umbrella insurance can help you when you find yourself in a situation when you are liable for claims larger than your homeowners’ insurance covers. This policy extends over homeowners’ insurance, typically reaching $1 million.

If your homeowners’ policy only covers around $200,000, but you are liable for a $1 million loss, your personal umbrella liability policy will cover the remaining $800,000 you owe.

While your homeowners’ insurance and umbrella liability insurance both offer some liability coverage for accidental shootings and self-defense (in some instances, not all), no insurance company offers stand-alone gun liability separate from other policies.

Takeaway

As gun violence continues throughout the country, the conversation surrounding gun liability will continue. With no separate gun insurance readily available, many public officials are pushing for gun liability to be mandatory for gun owners. These policies will help compensate for the cost of gun violence for taxpayers and victims. However, no such legislation has been enacted. As with all legal issues, Shamieh Law continues to keep a close eye on the conversation surrounding gun violence and liability.

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