I purchased a home 18 months ago, and I’ll admit that I was seduced by the built-in gun vault in the basement. It didn’t even matter that the original owner hadn’t updated a single thing since 1978. Since the purchase, I’ve invested heavily in updating my home. A couple months ago, I hired a plumber to do some work in my master bathroom. I was so happy to finally have that work done — until two weeks later.
Around that time, I went to work out in my basement. I noticed a shadow on the cement floor by the door of my gun vault. As I approached the area, I discovered that it wasn’t a shadow at all. It was water. Sure enough, I opened the vault door and was greeted by water everywhere. I felt physically sick to my stomach at the sight of ammunition, camera equipment, optics, holsters, targets, firearms cases and a couple firearms submerged in water.
My insurance company later determined that the new drain in my tub had failed and was no longer connected to the pipe. It wasn’t the fault of the plumber, although his work probably hastened the event. I soon realized that for a solid two weeks after the work, every shower I took had drained straight down onto my property.
I had packed many items in plastic tubs that I then stacked in the vault. Those plastic tubs acted as a cascading waterfall, transferring water to other items. I hadn’t completely secured many of the lids, so water had collected inside. Gun cases, targets and boxes of ammunition that were just sitting on the floor had absorbed the water. Mold had begun to grow on leather holsters and belts, and submerged ammunition had begun to rust. It was horrifying, and I knew I was about to get the costliest lesson of my life.
Now, coming out of this incredibly distressing experience, I have five tips that can help prepare and protect you from catastrophic losses with firearms and firearms-related items by understanding gun insurance. Hopefully, this will save you from experiencing the same costly lesson.
Know Your Gun Insurance Coverage
My first suggestion is proactive in nature: Check your homeowner’s policy for limits and coverage conditions regarding personal property. Usually, homeowner’s insurance policies will impose a sub-limit on firearms and firearms-related items. Insurance coverages can vary by company, but in general, these sub-limits typically fall between $2,000 and $3,000. Homeowners who possess one or two firearms probably have adequate coverage if the value doesn’t exceed these limits.
When reviewing your insurance policy, be sure to verify the circumstances that are covered in relation to the gun insurance sub-limits. Some insurance agencies will specify that coverage is only for theft. Make sure that your property is covered not only for theft, but also for losses attributed to water, fires and natural disasters. If your insurance sub-limits or circumstances are insufficient, make sure you discuss options with your agent.
Having a complete inventory of your firearms and firearms-related property will reduce stress during a catastrophic event. This requires some work initially, but, over time, documenting purchases will become natural.
Document your property and include the purchase price and the date or year of purchase. Then, take a photograph of that item so you’ll have both before and after photos in the case of an incident. Include in your inventory any model information and serial numbers. Make sure that you store this information remotely, or if you prefer a hard copy, keep a second copy somewhere outside of your home.
Although I didn’t do an inventory, I do one thing habitually that greatly assisted me during this process. Every time I make a purchase, I store the receipt in a folder in my filing cabinet. I store order confirmations for online purchases in a folder in my email inbox. I organize my email folders by property type — firearms, camera equipment, electronics, etc.
When the insurance company initially asked about how much I thought I had lost, I estimated a third of the actual loss. Part of this disparity was my failure to recognize what my insurance company would consider destroyed, but it was also due to hidden purchases I’d forgotten because they weren’t obvious. Like many gun owners, I have many customized and aftermarket items. Sometimes I spend as much on the upgrades as I do on the original item. Those receipts helped me remember those hidden purchases. In addition, those receipts reminded me of what I’d actually paid for the items.
Study The Gun Insurance Claim
After you file a claim, your insurance company will send out an adjuster to survey the damage to all property, both structural and personal. It’s important to understand that most adjusters probably won’t have a firearms background. Sometimes they don’t know what they’re looking at or how to value it. My adjuster advised that he would just count all the loose rounds and generically list them with a price. He didn’t know the difference in costs between a self-defense round versus a practice round, for example. I pointed out the price differences and made sure he recorded the losses recorded.
When the adjuster sends you a copy of the claim summary, it will include a copy of the item description and the price of the item. It’ll provide a dollar amount for a final settlement that they’re willing to pay you. It’s tempting to accept that first offer and be done with the process, but before doing so, examine the summary line by line or you may short yourself a lot of money. If you have a low sub-limit, this step may not be necessary. When I got my summary, I discovered that the adjuster had listed some items generically and some items were missing from the list altogether. After my review and correction, my actual loss increased by $2,500. If you and your insurance company cannot come to an agreement over the losses, you can reach out to your state insurance commissioner for assistance.
Don’t Be Hasty
Don’t get rid of any damaged property until your insurance company clears you to do so. Before it’s removed, make sure to photograph it. The insurance company might hire someone to come clean up the damaged property, or you may be left with it. It’s important to note that if you do get rid of property without permission — even if you took pictures of it — your insurance company may not pay out on it. Get very clear instructions on the removal and destruction of damaged property. If the insurance company arranges this, tell them if you have ammunition or anything else hazardous that requires specialized destruction. Do not keep or use any ammunition that has been submerged.
Also, do not further damage any property covered in the claim. Many items will likely be destroyed, but in my situation, the items were actually sold to a buyer.
There are proactive measures that you can take to protect against substantial losses of firearms and firearms-related items. If your homeowner’s insurance is insufficient, consider purchasing a rider or separate policy to cover the gap in gun insurance. The NRA offers separate supplemental policies. If your policy is confusing, you can contact your insurance agent, or you can go to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) website and download guides that explain homeowner’s insurance policies.
It’s important to note that if you experience a catastrophic event, it’s your duty to prevent additional damage to property. For example, if you have a pipe that bursts, it is your responsibility to move your property and contact someone to repair it in order to prevent additional property damage. I recommend taking photos and videos before making repairs the repair for submitting to your insurance agent, if needed.
I recommend downloading an app for your cell phone to help inventory your property. Developed by the NAIC, the MyHome Scr.APP.book app allows you to photograph your property and describe it fully. You can label each item and enter the date of purchase, the purchase price, the serial number and the brand. In addition, you can organize each item into broader categories.
Gun safes are an added security feature that can minimize losses under some circumstances. A good safe can guard against theft. Although a fireproof safe might guard against some fire damage, they have limited temperature rating and exposure times. In addition, most firearms owners store their firearms safes in their basements, an area that’s least susceptible to fire but most susceptible to water damage. The reality is that water damages more firearms than fire. So it might be worthwhile to invest in a waterproof safe. And make sure you place your safe in a smart area that isn’t near plumbing, for example.
You know what’s worse than experiencing a significant property loss? Finding out that your homeowner’s insurance is insufficient to cover those losses or that a little preplanning and investigation could’ve minimized the losses. Simply having homeowner’s insurance is not enough, especially for firearms owners, who can be particularly susceptible to property losses not covered by their homeowner’s insurance policies due to sub-limits and restrictive circumstances. By employing a few of the aforementioned practices, gun owners will be much more prepared to recoup their losses should they face a catastrophic event.
This article was originally published in Personal Defense World No. 220. To order a copy, please visit outdoorgroupstore.com.