Dogs might bite, guns might kill – yet insurers are tougher on dog owners when it comes to homeowners’ insurance
When employees of American Family Insurance discovered earlier this year that Susie Salazar of Greeley, Colorado owned a pit bull, they did what company rules dictated: they cancelled her homeowner’s policy. After all, they had done the same thing last year to Nebraska sheriff’s deputy Andy Woodward, after they found out his police dog, a Belgian Malinois named Diezel, lived as his family pet when he wasn’t on the job.
When it comes to dogs, American Family Insurance has a policy of not issuing homeowner’s insurance to families owning certain breeds, even if the canine in question has never done anything more threatening than lick a toddler’s hand.
Firearms? Well … you need to be proven guilty first. “American Family will insure guns,” a spokeswoman said. “However American Family will not insure people who have been convicted of felonies for crimes involving weapons.”
Think about it this way. Dogs might bite. Guns might kill. What worries an insurance company more?
The issue of gun ownership and insurance coverage has taken out increasing importance in recent months as a growing number of state legislators, frustrated by the lack of progress in Washington on enacting even the most rudimentary form of gun control, are attempting to force consumers who own guns to purchase liability insurance – much in the way car owners are required to buy coverage before they can legally drive their autos.
The hope by many people who are introducing and supporting such legislation is that new regulation in this area will do a great deal. They’re hoping it will force the costs of gun carnage on those who actually own firearms. It may even, perhaps, making it cost prohibitive for middle-class homeowners – like, say, Nancy Lanza, the mother of Newtown shooter Adam Lanza – to keep firearms, or at least give them a monetary incentive to store them securely.
As a result, legislators in more than half a dozen states and the District of Columbia have introduced legislation to require gun owners to purchase enhanced liability insurance. There is also proposed federal legislation as well, sponsored by New York Congresswoman Carolyn McCarthy.
The details in each state differ – Washington DC, for one, would like to require that the policies cover malicious and illegal actions, while Pennsylvania’s would have would have restricted coverage to cover accidental shootings – but either way, the hope is that gun owners would bear some of the billions of dollars in costs gun violence costs all of us annually.
Insurance companies are opposing the legislation for a basic reason: right now, the vast amount of gun carnage does not result in any industry liability. Homeowner policies only cover accidental shootings, something that does not describe the vast majority of the more than 30,000 deaths, and 55,000 injuries caused by guns annually.
Instead, it might describe about 600 gun-related deaths each year. “Add this up and guns are not a large risk to insurers for homeowner’s insurance,” says Tom Harvey, who writes the Gun Insurance Blog.
Dog bites, on the other hand, are almost always considered accidental events, with the result that should, someone file a claim, they result in a not-insignificant bill for insurance companies. Think about it this way: in the United States, dog bites man (or woman) approximately 4.7m times in any given year. The vast majority will not result in an insurance company payout but of the more than 16,000 that do, victims will receive just under $30,000 for their injuries, for a total tab of $489m annually.
This isn’t a small bill and insurance companies don’t pay these claims happily. As a result, more than a few will not issue homeowners policies to people who own certain breeds like Doberman Pinschers and pit bulls, which are deemed aggressive or more likely to cause serious biting injuries than others. How seriously do insurance companies take this matter? Some are known to refuse to insure even Yorkshire terriers.
It should come as no surprise to know that the evidence shows that if we put insurance companies in a position where they need to know about guns because they can suffer a monetary loss if something bad happens, they will treat them like they treated Susie Salazar’s pit bull.
Look what recently happened in Kansas, where a law was passed earlier this year to permit teachers and other school officials to carry concealed weapons. EMC Insurance Co, the primary insurer of schools in the state, quickly let it be known they would not renew policies of any educational institution that moved to allow kindergarten teachers – or any school authorities – to pack heat.
So here’s hoping the states can begin passing insurance mandates for gun owners. Given how little luck gun control advocates have had in Washington, it seems like it is the most effective way of reducing gun ownership in the United States currently on offer.