Fred Grimm

Shoot somebody? This hotline’s for you — for a fee

In this file photo, gun dealer Dan Acevedo stands in his Keys gun shop. There are more civilian-owned weapon in the U.S. than people.
In this file photo, gun dealer Dan Acevedo stands in his Keys gun shop. There are more civilian-owned weapon in the U.S. than people. Keynoter

Blow away some hapless trick-or-treater lurking around the front yard on Halloween night? Don’t worry. Just dial the 24-hour self-defense hotline.

And, oh yeah ... don’t forget to call 911. Beneficiaries of a U.S. Concealed Carry Association’s “self defense shield” insurance policy should consult the USCCA-issued wallet card with strict instructions of how to address the operator: “I was attacked and forced to defend myself. Please send the police and an ambulance.”

When the cops show up, once again, stick to the script. “I want my lawyer present before I answer any questions, and until then, I invoke my right to remain silent.”

Don’t worry about paying for that lawyer. The insurance package, at least the $30-a-month “platinum plan,” provides $125,000 for an “immediate attorney retainer,” along with $10,000 for bond if the cops don’t buy the self-defense argument. Plus, up to a million bucks to cover civil damages, in case the little scoundrel’s parents sue. Along with $500 a day compensation for the time you spend in court.

Shield insurance takes the worry out of those dodgy shootings. With one of these policies, some gun owner who might have hesitated before pulling the trigger can come out blasting.

Other outfits, including the NRA, offer similar self-defense legal insurance, but the USCCA’s offering caught Floridians’ attention last week when the Tampa Bay Times described a shooting incident in which a Tampa man gunned down his unarmed neighbor after the shooter had instigated a dispute over loud music. The gunman, according to the Times, called the U.S. Concealed Carry Association hotline before the gunshot victim “had even been declared dead.” And, indeed, the shooter was not prosecuted.

Self-defense insurance, along with the scripted advice, works particularly well in a state like Florida, which passed a Stand Your Ground self-defense law back in 2005, removing a longstanding legal requirement to attempt a retreat from harm’s way before shooting. After 11 years, criminal defense lawyers have discovered that Stand Your Ground has introduced a lot of ambiguity into what once would have been considered outright manslaughter.

We’ve become a shoot-first society, a nation with more civilian-owned guns than actual people. A Washington Post estimate last October put the number of civilian-owned firearms at 357 million. Since, U.S. gun manufacturers have added another 10 million guns or so to the mix. Meanwhile, hunting is no longer much of a rationale for gun ownership. According to the National Opinion Research at the University of Chicago, the percentage of adults living in a household in which one or both spouses hunt has fallen from 31.6 percent in 1977 to 15.4 percent in 2014.

Gun owners, most of them, aren’t much interested in killing wildlife. They’ve got something else in mind. No wonder they need shooter insurance.

Which puts the 78 percent of Americans who don’t own guns (according to researchers from Harvard and Northeastern universities, reported last week in The Guardian) in an increasingly perilous situation. You can get shot, nowadays, just for playing loud music.

But again, the market has responded. In January, Colonial Life & Accident Insurance Co. announced a $5,000 gunshot wound policy. “Customers can use the money to pay medical bills, expenses not covered by health insurance such as co-payments and deductibles, or even household bills.”

The trick here is to survive the encounter. “The policy covers non-fatal gunshot wounds from a conventional firearm that require physician treatment and overnight care in a hospital within 24 hours of the injury,” according to Chris Winston in Colonial Life’s corporate marketing department.

Winston added that the policy excludes “intentional, self-inflicted gunshots or wounds inflicted in war or armed conflict, or felonious activities.” Which would seem to make the Miami market less lucrative. But a Floridian can buy a gunshot policy for only a dollar a month. Winston wouldn’t reveal sales figures, other than, “we expect fourth-quarter enrollments to be strong.”

He said the policies are “ideally suited for police, fire, emergency medical technicians and security guards. In fact, more than 80 percent of our sales have been from employees in local, state and federal government accounts.”

The problem, particularly in South Florida, is that these categories don’t much fit the profile of our average gunshot victim. My colleague Charles Rabin reported four shootings in Miami-Dade over three days last week that left a 12-year-old and seven teenagers wounded. (And a 27-year-old Marine killed.)

A Miami-Dade police sergeant described the shooters as “gun-toting wannabe gangsters.” Maybe so. But these wannabes are doing wonders for the insurance industry.