Obeying the law is not enough. You also need money. If you draw your sidearm to stop an attacking thug you can still be prosecuted with the full fury of the U.S. justice system. At best, with an impartial judge, an unbiased jury, and the support of the media, it will cost you your life savings. At second best, you will be convicted, imprisoned, and released only after an appeals court throws out a verdict tainted by a biased judge or a gullible jury. Appeals cost more money than an ordinary family has. At worst, you will rot in prison because you lack the funds to defend yourself or to appeal a wrongful conviction.
The solution is to plan for the worst and have contingency funds on call. Today we look at three approaches to self-defense contingency funds planning: NRA-endorsed self-defense insurance, USCCA Shield, and ACLDN membership. We also explain that today’s topic excludes contingency planning for risks beyond criminal defense such as: homeowner’s liability, civil lawsuit, or public hysteria.
NRA-Endorsed Self-Defense Insurance
The National Rifle Association endorses a set of insurance policies including: liability insurance for accidental body injury or property damage to others, theft of your firearms, civil self-defense, and criminal self-defense. Here we look only at the last, criminal self-defense.
The NRA-Endorsed self-defense policy is administered by Lockton Affinity LLC, the world’s largest privately owned independent insurance broker. It comes in two versions. Both provide up to $50,000 reimbursement once you are acquitted or charges are dismissed. The lesser version costs $180 per year (double it to include spouse) and comes with $100,000 civil lawsuit coverage. The more expensive policy costs $269 per year and offers $250,000 for civil lawsuit.
The NRA has been supporting gun owners since 1871 and is as reputable and reliable as any organization can be. We have no doubt that after you are found not-guilty you will recover from the underwriters your criminal defense expenses up to the $50,000 limit.
The NRA-endorsed policy has three negative points. The first is the $50,000 maximum. The sum would not cover even a trivial prosecution. According to NRA representative Katie Stocker, who manages the insurance program, the NRA plans to increase this limit substantially by 2014.
The second drawback is that the policy grants after-trial reimbursement not cash up front, when you most desperately need money. Although a negative point, there is no obvious way to change it through traditional insurance. We discuss this below under “The Problem With Cash Up Front”.
The third drawback is that you must be acquitted or have charges dismissed in order to collect. On the one hand, no NRA member wants to reimburse criminals. On the other hand, many cases (Jimmy Hair, Harold Fish) ended in unjust convictions by biased judges and sheeplike juries that were later overturned by appeals courts horrified at the injustice. Others end in costly repeated hung juries (Larry Hickey). The wording of the NRA-endorsed policy does not appear to cover such situations.
The U.S. Concealed Carry Association offers three versions of its self-defense insurance called “Shield”.
- The Silver version costs $127 per year (double it to include spouse) and provides up to $50,000 criminal self-defense reimbursement plus $5,000 cash up front, $2,500 for bail bond, and $250 per day compensation while in court.
- The Gold version costs $197 per year and provides provides up to $75,000 criminal self-defense reimbursement plus $7,500 cash up front, $5,000 for bail bond, and $350 per day compensation while in court.
- The Platinum version costs $297 per year and provides up to $100,000 criminal self-defense reimbursement plus $10,000 cash up front, $10,000 for bail bond, and $500 per day compensation while in court.
The policies are administered by Delta Defense LLC and underwritten by Savers Property and Casualty Insurance Company. In contrast to NRA-endorsed insurance, the insurance policy-holder for Shield is the USCCA, not the individual member. The member is merely the beneficiary. This does not affect the end result–if you are acquitted you will be reimbursed.
USCCA Shield corrects two drawbacks of NRA-endorsed insurance. It is available in larger amounts–up to double the NRA-endorsed limit. Also, you get money immediately, both for a lawyer retainer and bail bond. The latter advantage may be illusory, however. (See “The Problem With Cash Up Front”, below.)
Like NRA-endorsed insurance, the Shield program does not appear to cover convictions that are later overturned.
Also, unlike the NRA, which has existed for almost a century and a half, the USCCA Shield program has been around for only a few years. There is no reason to doubt their continuing success, but it is indisputable that they lack the NRA’s track record.
The Armed Citizens’ Legal Defense Network offers membership benefits that complement and in some ways exceed those offered by insurance policies. Unlike the USCCA Shield and NRA-endorsed programs, no insurance underwriter is formally involved with ACLDN membership benefits. Instead, the ACLDN Legal Defense Fund is supported by member dues, and currently has close to $300,000 in it. Membership in the ACLDN costs $125 for the first year and $85 per year thereafter (add $50 for spouse). Benefits include $10,000 payable up-front to your lawyer if you are prosecuted, plus expert witnesses for your trial, plus whatever additional financial assistance the ACLDN advisory board decides that you need.
The second benefit is the most impressive. Experts available to ACLDN members include: Massad Ayoob, John Farnam, Jim Fleming, Tom Givens, Emanuel Kapelsohn, and Dennis Tueller. Readers of this blog already recognize those names. New readers should know that they are the absolute top living experts in the field of self-defense. Collectively they have testified in hundreds of self-defense trials, written dozens of books on the subject, and conducted original research that advanced the science of self-defense. There are none better to be on your side in a pinch. Bluntly put, they are the best.
The third benefit (funding decided by an advisory committee) is also worth examining. On the one hand unlike an insurance policy, the ACLDN has no contractual obligation to provide a specific “X” amount of dollars for eventuality “Y” (other than the $10,000 up front). This means that the member must trust that the organization will provide whatever support is needed if he is prosecuted. This may trouble readers who prefer to see all promises in writing. On the other hand, it means that there is no quibbling over an unjustly convicted member. The ACLDN’s track record shows that once they are convinced that a member is being unjustly prosecuted, they will bite into the case with bulldog tenacity and fight for the member for as long as it takes, even after conviction and through multiple appeals and re-trials.
The flip side of the open-ended commitment is that members are expected to pitch in. If a member collects self-defense insurance reimbursment (from, say, NRA-endorsed insurance or USCCA shield) after successful defense funded by ACLDN, then he is expected to help defray ACLDN’s expenses by helping to replenish the organization’s defense fund.
Four Other Issues
The Problem With Cash Up Front — In order to assist your lawyer in preparing your defense before trial you must stay out of jail. In order to stay out of jail you must pay a bondsman to post bail. A bondsman’s non-reimbursable fee is ten percent of the bail amount. So if your bail is set at, say, $100,000 you will pay a nonreturnable fee of $10,000. Knowing this, an unfriendly bail-hearing judge may ask you, under oath, how much money you can get your hands on. Whatever you answer, the judge may then set your bail at exactly ten times that amount, thus wiping you out to the penny. In the Zimmerman case for example, the defendant had received $150,000 in donations from friends. Upon hearing the figure, the judge set bail at $1,500,000, thereby legally taking away every nickel that Zimmerman had. Hence, rather than accepting pretrial cash in your own name, have up-front donations, insurance payments, or membership benefits paid directly to your lawyers for their expenses.
Homeowner’s Liability Insurance — You cannot rely on your homeowners’ (or renters’) liability insurance in a self-defense case. Read your policy carefully and you will see that it does not cover acts that you commit deliberately. In order to file a claim under homeowners’ insurance you must persuade the courts that you shot the thug by accident. Succeed in this and your insurance company will cover your liability but you risk prison for criminal negligence. To avoid prison, you must persuade the courts that you fired deliberately in order to save your own life. Do this and you will avoid prison but your homeowners’ insurance is off the hook.
Self-Defense Civil Liability Insurance — All three of the above organizations offer some form of protection from civil lawsuit specifically aimed at self-defense cases. We do not discuss this issue here because civil liability varies so much by state that it warrants a separate future article of its own.
Public-Hysteria Lynching — Finally, the United States has a long history of lynching the innocent. Mob violence springs from hysteria fomented by the newsmedia. Sometimes mobs cow otherwise rational authorities into executing innocents in order to protect themselves. The Salem witch trials and the hanging of innocent free Blacks after the Nat Turner incident come to mind. Other times, judge and jury find a person not guilty but the mob lynches him anyway while impotent authorities stand aside. Rosewood FL (1923), Tulsa OK (1921), and most Jim Crow era lynchings of Black men come to mind. Each innocent death is caused by newsmedia inflaming mob passions in order to sell copy. Demagogue politicians then goad the mobs to murderous rage in order to aggrandize themselves. No insurance will save you if civilization’s rule of law fails and you become the target of mob fury.
Conclusion: Insurance Plus ACLDN
In conclusion, I suggest that every armed citizen should have both ACLDN membership and criminal self-defense insurance. You need the former because it the most effective way to have an organization comprising world-class experts guard your six, whatever it takes. You need insurance as well because criminal self-defense can easily cost $100,000 or more, a burden that is best shared among many policyholders. As to choosing between NRA-endorsed insurance and USCCA Shield, I lean towards the latter because the NRA’s $50,000 maximum reimbursement is inadequate. USCCA’s lack of track record is a concern however, and you should re-examine the choice once the NRA increases its maximum payout.
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Frank W. Sweet is an NRA-certified firearms instructor who teaches the safe and effective use of handguns for self-defense. He was awarded an M.A. in Civil War Studies in military history from American Military University in 2001. He is the author of Legal History of the Color Line (ISBN 9780939479238), Six Gems of Forgotten Civil War History (ISBN 9780939479023), and of numerous published historical essays. To receive a schedule of his firearms training courses, email to email@example.com. The information above should not be construed as legal advice.
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