Florida Bill Would Restrict Insurers in Underwriting Gun Owners

By | January 17, 2014

Florida lawmakers say they want to protect policyholders’ second amendment rights to bear firearms by preventing insurers from issuing, renewing or canceling a policy based on whether the policyholder possesses a gun.

The state’s Senate Banking and Insurance Committee earlier this week approved a bill that would restrict an insurer inquiring whether a home or auto insured owns any firearms.

Senator Tom Lee (R-Brandon), who is sponsoring the legislation, said it is needed to protect gun owners’ rights and privacy.

“This will preclude an insurer from going on a fishing expedition just as they can’t go on a fishing expedition to find out how many chainsaws your own or sharp knives in your kitchen,” said Lee.

Under the bill (SB424), it would be illegal to refuse a consumer’s application for new or renewal coverage by charging an unfairly discriminatory rate based on whether the applicant owns or possesses firearms.

In cases where the applicant is seeking a separate rider to specifically cover any firearms, the insurer could then make inquiries.

Additionally, the bill prevents insurers from sharing any gun owning information without the specific permission of the policyholder. Currently, insurers are allowed to share the information with an affiliated company without the gun owners’ permission.

Policyholders, however, have the right to block any such disclosures to an unaffiliated third-party.

Some lawmakers expressed skepticism about whether the bill is needed considering that it is not a widespread practice in the industry.

The state’s Office of Insurance Regulation reported that out of the five top providers of homeowners’ insurance in the state, only one —United P&C —considers gun ownership. According to the insurer’s underwriting manual, the questions are limited to assault-type and rapid-fire weapons, with the exception of hunting rifles or shotguns.

But Lee maintained that the bill is needed to protect gun owners.

“There have been policies cancelled or not issued because someone was exercising their second amendment right to lawfully own a gun,” said Lee.

Nationwide Insurance Co., representative Tim Meenan, said that while the bill stills needs some refinement, there is support for it in the industry.

“We don’t in the personal lines process ask homeowners if they have a gun,” said Meenan. “We believe it should be their election if they want to do so.”

National Rifle Association and Unified Sportsman of Florida representative Marion Hammer stood in support of the legislation saying it would protect gun owners rights.

“This bill will stop some wrongdoing,” said Hammer.

Not all lawmakers, however, were on board when it came to the bill.

Senator Gwen Margolis (D-Miami) said insurers should have the right to question policyholders about gun ownership given the potential danger a firearm can represent.

“Your liability is greater if you don’t put them away or there are children around,” said Margolis. “There are all kinds of problems there. I don’t know why we are dealing with this, it is absurd.”

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