Stolen Guns and Insurance

Are your guns covered if stolen? Now's the time to find out.

March 2003, Artesia, Mississippi. Chris Vickery got the call that his home had been broken into and arrived to find the front door knocked down and a big mess inside. Thieves had made off with Vickery's laptop computers, a camera and various other small items. They also emptied out his gun safe.

"They stole my Ruger .454 Casull, with a scope and a very nice Uncle Mike's shoulder holster," says Vickery. "I bet they freaked out over that great pistol."

Thieves also got a half-dozen shotguns and a rifle. Vickery was understandably upset. But at least, he figured, his valuables were covered by his homeowners insurance policy. Right? Not exactly. He received a check for his computers and camera, plus repair costs for his door.

"But I had around $10,000 worth of firearms stolen and got nothing from my insurance company," Vickery says.

In the policy's small print, Vickery discovered that firearms were not covered unless each one was listed individually with the insurance company, complete with photographs and documentations of value.

"Unfortunately, this is usually how firearms owners find out they're not covered--when it's too late," says Jeff Hewitt, a program manager with Lockton Affinity, the insurance administrator that offers the ArmsCare Plus Firearms Insurance program through the National Rifle Association.

"For the most part," Hewitt continues, "I'd say the coverage for firearms with your typical homeowners policy is inadequate."

Firearms insurance is a wise move. Consider that in the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Crime in the United States 2008 report, approximately $142 million in firearms were stolen that year alone. Stolen firearms recovered? By value, less than 9 percent.

The first rule of insuring your firearms is to read your homeowners or renters policy thoroughly and ask your agent to clarify anything you don't understand. If you are buying a policy, inquire specifically whether firearms are covered. Then get specifics of that coverage and find out what sort of documentation you may have to provide.

Make sure you photograph all firearms. Document serial numbers, and, with especially valuable firearms, get written, professional appraisals. Keep these records in a safe place, preferably outside your home (in a safety deposit box, for example).

Many homeowners policies do cover firearms, says Bill Wilson, associate vice president of the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America, but "there is usually a sub-limit for theft losses," he says. "In the standard homeowners policy, that sub-limit is $2,500, but it can be more or less in the policies used by individual insurance companies."

Within that sub-limit, firearms are usually covered only if each firearm is thoroughly documented with the insurer beforehand--as Vickery discovered. That sub-limit is usually a total, too, with each individual firearm allotted only $100 to $200 in coverage. Many insurers don't cover guns at all.

The NRA automatically offers $1,000 in firearms insurance to all members, with a $100 deductible, plus makes available the ArmsCare Plus program.

The ArmsCare Plus firearms insurance provides NRA members with up to $1 million in coverage for firearms and accessories, with protection against direct physical loss or damage such as fire, burglary or theft. Theft from a vehicle is covered, too, when it's the result of breaking and entering a locked vehicle or locked portion of a vehicle. Only firearms valued at $2,500 or over must be documented in a separate schedule, but serial numbers are not required.

There's no better time than right now to check whatever policy you have and see if it's sufficient. If not, it's time to go shopping.

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