Background on: Gun Liability


The idea that insurance can help prevent deaths from firearms often rises to the forefront of the nation’s consciousness following mass shootings. Advocates believe that if gun owners were required to purchase insurance, the cost would provide an incentive to own fewer firearms and/or more carefully store those they own.

Most insurers do not offer separate, stand-alone gun liability coverage. In considering whether insurance is an appropriate mechanism to prevent mass shootings, it is important to note that no insurer – primary or excess – provides liability coverage for illegal acts. Looking ahead, there is very little likelihood that insurers would develop such coverage.

Excess personal liability coverage for firearms owners is available, though typically only through membership in a firearms association.

Acts intended or expected to cause harm are also generally excluded from coverage, though some policies will cover cases for which bodily injury or property damage results from the use of “reasonable force” by an insured to protect persons or property. “Self-defense” coverage for firearms owners is available, though rarely found.

Historic perspective

The federal definition of “mass killings” is defined as “three or more killings in a single incident.” For active shootings, the FBI uses a broad definition that includes incidents in which an individual searches out and kills multiple people in a confined and populated area. This definition includes domestic incidents but excludes gang and drug violence.

The FBI’s list of fatalities doesn’t include perpetrators, who often commit suicide at the end of their spree. According to the FBI, there were 456 active shooter Incidents in the United States from 2000 to 2022, resulting in 1,222 people killed and another 2,175 individuals wounded.

The Pulse Nightclub shooting on June 12, 2016, in Orlando, Fla., took 49 lives (excluding the perpetrator) and wounded 58 people. The December 14, 2012, shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., was the deadliest mass shooting at a U.S. school. Twenty children between the ages of six and seven, as well as six staff members, were killed. The perpetrator killed his mother at her home, as well as himself.

The Las Vegas concert shooting in 2017 was the deadliest mass shooting in contemporary U.S. history, with 60 fatalities, not including the perpetrator, according to the Gun Violence Archive (GVA), an independent data collection and research group with no affiliation with any advocacy organization. The online archive of gun violence incidents is collected from more than 7,500 law enforcement, media, government, and commercial sources daily in an effort to provide near-real time data about the results of gun violence.

Top 10 Deadliest Mass Shootings, United States, 2012-2023


Rank Incident date State City or county Number killed Number injured
1 October 1, 2017 Nevada Las Vegas 61 439
2 June 12, 2016 Florida Orlando 50 53
3 December 14, 2012 Connecticut Sandy Hook 28 2
4 November 5, 2017 Texas Sutherland Springs 27 20
6 August 3, 2019 Texas El Paso 23 23
5 October 16, 1991 Texas Killeen 24 27
7 May 24, 2022 Texas Uvalde 22 17
8 October 25, 2023 Maine Lewiston 19 13
9 February 14, 2018 Florida Pompano Beach (Parkland) 17 17
10 December 2, 2015 California San Bernardino 16 19

View Archived Tables

Odds Of Death In The United States By Selected Cause Of Injury, 2021 (1)


Cause of death Number of deaths, 2021 One-year odds Lifetime odds
Accidental poisoning by and exposure to noxious substances (2) 102,001   3,254   43 
     Drug poisoning   98,268   3,377   44 
     Opioids (including both legal and illegal) 75,785   4,379   58 
All motor vehicle accidents 46,980 7,065 93
     Car occupants 7,576 43,809 576
     Pedestrians 8,984 36,943 485
     Motorcycle riders 5,836 56,870 747
Assault by firearm 20,958 15,836 208
Exposure to smoke, fire and flames 3,389 97,933 1,287
Fall on and from stairs and steps 2,766 119,991 1,577
Drowning and submersion while in or falling into swimming pool 841 394,642 5,186
Fall on and from ladder or scaffolding 557 595,860 7,830
Firearms discharge (accidental) 458 724,659 9,522
Air and space transport accidents 388 855,396 11,240
Cataclysmic storm (3) 217 1,529,464 20,098
Flood 95 3,493,618 45,908
Bitten or struck by dog 81 4,097,454 53,843
Earthquake and other earth movements 44 7,543,040 99,120
Lightning 15 (4) (4)

(1) Based on fatalities and life expectancy in 2021. Ranked by deaths in 2021.
(2) Includes all types of medications including narcotics and hallucinogens, alcohol and gases.
(3) Includes hurricanes, tornadoes, blizzards, dust storms and other cataclysmic storms.
(4) Rates based on less than 20 deaths are likely to be unstable from year to year and are therefore not included.

Source: National Center for Health Statistics; National Safety Council.

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Deaths In The United States By Firearm, 2020 And 2021


  Number Percent of total
Deaths caused by firearms (1) 2020 2021 2020 2021
Suicide by firearm 24,292 26,328 53.7% 53.9%
Assault (homicide) by firearm 19,383 20,958 42.9 42.9
Legal intervention 611 537 1.4 1.1
Accidental discharge of firearms 535 549 1.2 1.1
Undetermined intent 400 458 0.9 0.9
Total  45,221 48,830 100.0% 100.0%

(1) Firearms are guns that can be carried by a person and does not refer to larger classes of guns.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Vital Statistics Report.

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The regulatory environment

State: In 2013, a handful of states (California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts and New York) introduced legislation that would mandate the purchase of gun liability insurance after the Newtown, Connecticut, school shooting. These laws were designed to assure that gun owners had liability insurance. None was enacted.

Federal: In 2013 and 2017, Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-NY) introduced the Firearms Risk Protection Act. The 2017 legislation, introduced in March 2017 and referred to the House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and investigations in April 2017, would amend the federal criminal code to prohibit a firearm purchase by or sale to a person who is not covered by a qualified liability insurance policy. Additionally, it would require the owner of a newly purchased firearm to be covered by a qualified liability insurance policy. A qualified liability insurance policy would cover the purchaser specifically for losses resulting from use of the firearm. The law would not apply to a firearm purchase or sale for the use of a federal, state, or local government. The bill also included a fine for violators. To date, the federal government and states have not enacted laws mandating gun liability.

The current state of gun liability

Personal insurance: Insurers rarely offer any separate gun liability insurance policy. Most individuals have some property and liability coverage for firearms in their standard homeowners’ policy. Additional liability coverage is available through a personal umbrella policy. A few policies cover losses from accidental shootings in excess of the homeowners’ coverage.

When there is liability insurance, it only covers accidental shootings and in some cases, acts of self-defense. There is no coverage for criminal or other intentional shootings.

Although every insurance company adopts its own policy, many companies use standard homeowners and personal umbrella policies written by Insurance Services Office (ISO). The standard homeowners policy is known as an HO-3. That policy specifically mentions firearms once, as property that is covered if stolen. Firearms are not mentioned in the liability section of the policy, implying that firearm liability would be covered. A homeowners’ policy covers all liabilities that are not specifically excluded.

Not all accidents are covered, per the terms of the policy. For example, if a relative living at the same home were accidentally shot, the accident would not appear to be covered.

The policy explicitly says it will not cover “expected or intended injury.” The policy is designed to cover accidents, not intentional, criminal actions, such as a homicide or an attempted homicide. A mass shooting would not appear to be covered. A critical point is that covering an intentional, illegal act like armed assault would violate standard underwriting principles.

Although acts that are intended or expected to cause harm are generally excluded, some policies restore coverage in cases where bodily injury or property damage results from the use of “reasonable force” by an insured to protect persons or property.

The personal umbrella liability policy, a close cousin of homeowners’ liability insurance, handles liability in much the same way as the homeowners policy. The policy covers liability above the limit of the homeowners’ policy, extending up to its own limit of liability, often $1 million. For example, if an insured is liable for a $1 million loss, the homeowners’ policy would pay its limit, say $100,000, and the personal umbrella policy would pay the remaining $900,000.

Group personal insurance: Personal firearms liability insurance was available from some organizations to cover acts of self-defense. It included personal protection plans with individual benefits administered by a national broker and underwritten by insurers. Membership in the sponsoring organization was mandatory. These policies had offered protection against civil liability, the cost to defend against civil and criminal legal actions and immediate access to attorney referrals. They also included supplementary payments as needed for bail, criminal defense legal retainer fees, and lawful firearm replacement, among other benefits.  However, in 2018, the major broker of these policies, along with insurers, were compelled to pay settlement charges brought by the New York State Department of Financial Services, which stated that the gunowners liability programs violated state law. As a result, the broker and most insurers have stopped administering the programs.

Commercial insurance: Active shooter events occur in confined or populated areas where the perpetrators intend to kill many people. A number of coverages can be triggered by active shooting incidents, including general liability, business interruption and property insurance. Workers comp insurance is implicated in shootings in the workplace while commercial general liability insurance coverage might also be implicated in shooting in a shopping center or a movie theatre.


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