Should you be required to have liability insurance if you own a gun?

Jan 30, 2024, 6:29 AM | Updated: 9:16 am

Gun owners could soon be required to have liability insurance. (AP Photo/David Goldman)...

Gun owners could soon be required to have liability insurance. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

(AP Photo/David Goldman)

A Washington Senate bill requiring liability insurance for gun owners is providing a new twist on the argument that citizens have the right to bear arms in the state.

Senate Bill 5963 would mandate all firearm owners in Washington to acquire and consistently maintain a residential dwelling policy and/or insurance policy that covers losses and damages resulting from the accidental discharge of a firearm. (The bill can be viewed here.)

Residential dwelling insurance, as defined by the bill, means any policy that includes either property or general casualty coverage.

The legislation also necessitates firearm owners to retain written proof of this insurance in any location where the firearm is stored.

If someone doesn’t own the home, they live in but rents and owns firearms, they would be required to have a liability policy covering accidental discharge of a gun, not the homeowner themselves.

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The bill requires the insurance company to inquire if the property owner owns a firearm and, if so, whether the firearm is securely stored. The insurance company must then inform the person of the requirements for carrying liability insurance that covers accidental discharge of a firearm.

If you fully own your house and it’s not under mortgage, homeowners’ insurance is not required. However, the language of this law does state that if you own a firearm, you must have residential dwelling policies covering accidental discharge. This could be what’s known as a surplus line of insurance rather than a full home insurance policy.

The legislation’s sponsor provides some reasoning

“This does not regulate, limit, or control the manner or method in which people may keep or bear arms. Instead, it simply says you must have liability insurance. This is an economic requirement that provides a financial incentive for responsible arms-carrying people,” says the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Patty Kuderer, D-Bellevue.

She acknowledges the Second Amendment right to own guns but emphasizes the inherent deadly risk associated with that right.

“Deaths and injuries cost Washington taxpayers at least $169 million a year, inclusive of costs related to accidental shootings,” Kuderer told the Senate Crime and Justice Committee on Monday.

Kuderer argues that the proposed legislation aims to reduce the human and financial costs of such incidents without infringing on Second Amendment rights.

Defense of and resistance to the bill

There was plenty of support and opposition to the bill during its initial hearing before the Senate Crime and Justice Committee Monday.

“We all hear that guns don’t kill people; people kill people. Well, people owning guns need to be financially responsible for the weapons that can kill,” said Craig Reynolds from Mercer Island.

As expected, the National Rifle Association opposed the bill, stating it will increase insurance rates and price legal gun owners out of their homes.

“This bill is a barrier to entry for firearms ownership, and it will price out low and middle-class gun owners, ensuring only the elite may maintain home ownership and their constitutional right to keep and bear arms,” Aoibheann Cline of the NRA said.

Yakima County Commissioner Amanda McKinney testified against the bill and took a shot at the Democratic majority in power in Olympia.

“This is something that we’ve had a common theme in this legislature: if you don’t have a behavior that we agree with, that we’ll find you, put a tax on you, and charge you until that behavior meets the one that we expect,” she said.

Other bills considered: State lawmakers try again to lower legal blood alcohol limit for DUIs

Addressing concerns about creating a gun registry, Kuderer assures that the bill does not establish one.

Instead, she explains that insurance producers would handle inquiries about gun ownership and safe storage, with any shared information being in the aggregate and devoid of individual identifying details.

In conclusion, Kuderer views gun owner liability insurance as a smart tool to address a portion of the gun violence epidemic while preserving Second Amendment rights and promoting responsible gun ownership.

Matt Markovich often covers the state legislature and public policy for KIRO Newsradio. You can read more of Matt’s stories here. Follow him on X, formerly known as Twitter, or email him here.

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Should you be required to have liability insurance if you own a gun?