Official faces questions over ‘unconstitutional’ insurance mandate for gun carriers

State law, now on hold, requires concealed carry permit holders have $300K in liability coverage

By: - May 17, 2023 6:44 am

Lawmakers on Tuesday debated a new state law that requires gun owners to buy liability insurance, hours after a judge declared the mandate unconstitutional. (Aristide Economopoulos for New Jersey Monitor)

Just as state officials were learning that a federal judge had barred New Jersey from enforcing its new requirement that gun owners get liability insurance to carry their guns in public, the state’s top insurance regulator faced questions over the controversial state mandate.

U.S. District Judge Renée Marie Bumb, in a 235-page opinion issued Tuesday that put a preliminary injunction on much of New Jersey’s new gun law, deemed the insurance mandate unconstitutional and prevented it from taking effect in July as scheduled. It would have required concealed carry permit holders to obtain liability insurance with $300,000 in minimum coverage for bodily injury, death, or property damage stemming from their public use of a firearm.

Despite Bumb’s decision, members of the Senate’s commission carried on with its questioning of state Department of Banking and Insurance Commissioner Marlene Caride Tuesday afternoon, peppering her with questions over the availability of the kind of insurance the state wants gun owners to purchase.

Republicans who oppose the mandate have said previously that gun owners can’t obtain the kind of insurance the state law requires. Caride said they could get it from one of the state’s surplus line insurers, which cover the types of risk not covered by regular insurers, like kidnapping insurance, pony ride insurance, and certain types of professional liability insurance.

“As I sit here today, I can tell you that the surplus line market is available to provide liability insurance for an individual who owns a gun,” she said.

Certain liabilities stemming from gun use may be covered by renters or homeowners insurance, but Caride said it is unclear whether such plans would satisfy the mandate.

It’s not clear how many of New Jersey’s surplus line insurers — there are nearly 160 in the state — offer firearm liability coverage, and the cost of such coverage is also hazy.

“It’s a little disturbing to me that we don’t have an easy answer,” said Sen. Declan O’Scanlon (R-Monmouth). “We did something that the state does on a pretty regular basis: We make law that has a mandate without verifying that the mandate can actually be satisfied.”

The insurance mandate is part of a sweeping new gun law, signed by Gov. Phil Murphy in December, that was New Jersey Democrats’ response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Bruen decision, which upheld the constitutional right to carry guns.

O’Scanlon said he has heard from gun owners who had been unable to find concealed carry liability insurance and questioned whether the requirement was an attempt by the state to withhold concealed carry permits in a post-Bruen world.

Caride said she would seek to transmit information on the availability and cost of such plans to lawmakers.

Dan Confalone, president of the New Jersey Surplus Lines Association, did not return a call seeking comment.

Bumb’s order also prevents the state from enforcing its gun ban in a host of so-called “sensitive places,” like beaches, parks, and restaurants that serve alcohol. Hours after the decision was released, Attorney General Matt Platkin’s office filed a notice that it intends to appeal the decision, which he called “devastating” for public safety.


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Nikita Biryukov
Nikita Biryukov

Nikita Biryukov most recently covered state government and politics for the New Jersey Globe. His tenure there included revelatory stories on marijuana legalization, voting reform and Rep. Jeff Van Drew's decamp to the Republican Party. Earlier, he worked as a freelancer for The Home News Tribune and The Press of Atlantic City.