An Ohio lawmaker is co-sponsoring legislation that experts say could benefit his private business, which sells liability insurance and other protections for gun owners in case they shoot someone in self-defense.
Rep. George Lang, R-West Chester Twp., runs Second Call Defense, along with two top executives of the Buckeye Firearms Association, the state’s most influential grassroots gun advocacy and lobbying group.
House Bill 381, which counts Lang and 21 other House Republicans as co-sponsors, expands instances where Ohioans can legally shoot to kill in self-defense.
Industry experts say this legislation would broaden the pool of people who would buy these kinds of policies, a potential boom to companies like Second Call Defense.
Citing a potential conflict of interest, Lang has recused himself from his role as chairman of the House Criminal Justice committee as it reviews HB 381 and another bill allowing people to carry concealed weapons without a license. He said he plans to abstain from voting on them as well, claiming he faces allegations of conflicted interest whether HB 381 passes or fails.
“No matter how you look at it, you could say this bill can benefit my business,” he said in an interview. “I conceptually support both bills.”
Financial disclosure documents show Lang makes at least $100,000 per year with Second Call Defense.
Current law, commonly referred to as “castle doctrine” or “stand your ground,” says Ohioans have no “duty to retreat” while in their home or vehicle in the face of a threat, before using force. They do have a duty to retreat elsewhere, if they can safely do so.
The legislation would, among other provisions, remove the duty to retreat in almost any situation a person is lawfully present.
“Clearly, concealed carry, open carry, an expansion of the castle doctrine, a rollback of duty to retreat, all of those would provide a greater incentive for individuals to purchase this coverage,” said Robert Hartwig, director of the Risk and Uncertainty Management Center at the University of South Carolina.
“You could argue that there is maybe an appearance of conflict or an appearance of self-dealing here.”
Lang said he plans to remove his name as a cosponsor if and when the full House votes on the bill. He said, however, it could also be argued his business suffers if the bill passes.
“The more gun friendly environments you have in different states, the less the perceived need is for a product like ours,” he said.
Second Call Defense works like this: for $35 a month, members receive “ultimate” coverage of up to $1 million in civil suit defense protection, $250,000 for civil suit damages protection, and $100,000 in criminal defense protection.
It covers costs “from trigger to trial,” as it’s marketed, including $2,000 for grislier details like “aftermath cleanup.”
Its website offers terrifying scenarios in which someone has broken into your house and lunges at you. You shoot, call the police, but have gone from victim to suspect. Second Call Defense, for members, would come in and provide “legal and financial protection you need to deal with police properly and defend your rights.”
The organization calls itself an “insurance-backed membership group.”
Sean Maloney and Dean Rieck, two executives with the Buckeye Firearms Association, serve as Second Call Defense’s counsel and marketing directors, respectively. Lang said he and Maloney co-founded the company in 2013, and that Rieck owns a small percentage of it. The Buckeye Firearm Association is an affiliate of Second Call Defense, according to a news release, and advertises its services online.
A representative with the Joint Legislative Committee on Ethics declined comment on Lang’s decision to recuse himself, but referred to Lang’s public statements in committee.
Ohio ethics law prohibits representatives from voting on legislation if he or she is a business associate with an entity advocating for the bill in question.
Experts disagree on the merits of gun liability insurance. Proponents argue it’s a prudent buy that demonstrates a clear-eyed understanding of the risks that gun ownership entails. Critics say it could embolden gun owners to act with deadly force.
Gun violence prevention advocates, like Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teen shot and killed in 2012 by a neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman, call it “murder insurance.”
The implications for insurers are more clear.
“The idea that expanding the categories of what is self-defense, can make self-defense insurance more common, more easy to sell, more sales, that could be right,” said Peter Kochenburger, a University of Connecticut law professor and deputy director of the insurance law center there.
Second Call Defense is not alone in the industry. However, insurance regulators in New York, New Jersey, Washington and California cracked down on the NRA’s Carry Guard, a former competitor.
The New York Department of Financial Services has proved uniquely aggressive, fining Lloyd’s of London $5 million, Lockton $7 million, and Chubb Insurance and subsidiary Illinois Union Insurance Company $1.3 million, all in connection to their work with the Carry Guard products.
The department accused the NRA in early February of selling “unlawful” insurance products, potentially imposing a $14 million fine.
Facing public scrutiny and regulatory pressure, Lloyd’s, an insurance marketplace, announced in May 2018 it would no longer underwrite this niche of insurance programs. However, Lloyd’s still underwrites Second Call Defense’s policies.
A Lloyd’s spokeswoman said the company is in the process of ending its involvement with Second Call Defense by May 2020.
As part of their crackdown, Washington regulators offered a limited peek into the industry’s risk calculations. Between April 2017 and January 2019, not a single claim was filed on the 811 policies the NRA sold.
Lang, citing privacy issues, declined to say how many claims the business has received, but said it’s more than one.
“We’ve had multiple members that have used our services,” he said.