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With great power comes great responsibility. This is what firearm owners and buyers have to keep in mind. Whether the weapon is for fulfilling your job duties or for personal protection, you must keep it safe to prevent accidents and crimes. A gun safe is an effective and reliable solution which is sometimes legally required. Let’s take a closer look at this protection option and what the law says about it.
Protecting Others and Yourself
A firearm, especially if you keep it loaded, is a potential hazard to people who do not know how to use it and to children, in particular. The statistics show that in the ten-year period from 2005 to 2014, 20,000 minors in the USA were killed or seriously injured in accidental shootings. Additionally, the risk of individuals with suicidal thoughts and serious mental disorders putting an end to their life if they have access to a gun is much higher.
Legally owned firearms must be protected from theft as well. This is one area where gun safes usually appear superior compared to other storage options which are focused primarily on safety. If you own a handgun and it is stolen and then used for committing a crime, the consequences could be very serious.
Finally, many state gun safe laws have strict penalties for those who fail to take adequate measures for protecting their firearms. It is worth looking at them more closely to get an idea of what you have to do to minimize the risk of an accident that you could be held liable for. This is extremely valuable information for current firearm owners and especially for people who plan to buy one or more.
What Federal Gun Storage Laws Say
A federal gun safe law has been in place since 2005. Formally known as the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act it states that dealers, manufacturers and importers of handguns cannot transfer such items without the transferee having a secure gun storage or safety device. This means that you cannot be handed a gun as part of your job or purchase one without providing for its protection in the first place.
There are exceptions, of course, notably for the transfer of firearms between federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, but they do not apply to the average buyer or owner. There are also specifics which you should be aware of. The legal requirements described above do not apply to the transfer of handguns between private sellers. Another key thing which you have to remember is that even through transferees must have a safety device, usually a gun safe, in place, they are not legally required to use it.
At present, there are no federal gun safe standards as per either in the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act nor in any other federal piece of legislation. Steps have been taken to produce ones which would replace the current voluntary standards set by the industry, but it is not known when or if such standards will be introduced. Given this, the purchase of a safe for storing firearms is far from a straightforward task.
Current Gun Storage Laws by State
There are eleven states with their own laws on gun locking devices right now. The list includes:
• New Jersey
• New York
• Rhode Island
In all other states, the federal law applies, meaning that specific firearms must be accompanied by such a device upon manufacture, transfer or sale. It is worth looking at the laws in some of the states in greater detail and especially at those that have their own device standards or require the devices to be approved by an appointed state agency.
Extra Care in Massachusetts
When looking at the gun storage laws by state, it is clear that Massachusetts has the strictest of all. The sale of a handgun or a large capacity weapon without a safety device designed to prevent its use by unauthorized people will automatically make firearm defective as far as the law is concerned. Massachusetts is the only state where owners are legally required to keep their firearms protected at all times. They have to be stored in a locked container or feature a mechanical lock which is resistant to tampering or another safety device serving the same purpose. The state maintains a list of the devices which owners can use.
Full Guidance in California
California is the state with the most comprehensive of all gun safe laws. The state has a roster of firearm safety devices approved for use. It is put in place by the California Department of Justice and is available online.
Under the California state law, the private transfer of a firearm carried out by a dealer must include a device listed on the roster, unless the transferee already owns such a device and it is suitable for the type of firearm transferred. The latter requirement is extremely important. When you get a firearm, you must opt for a gun safe or another device suitable for the respective type. There is a compatibility chart designed to help you with this and it is also directly accessible on the web.
It is worth noting that most, but not all, gun safes approved for use in the State are suitable for the four main types of firearms – pistols, shotguns, rifles, revolvers and derringers. Another key thing which you have to keep in mind is that under the California gun safe law, dealers selling safes that are not on the California Department of Justice roster must acknowledge this in writing in both English and Spanish on their packaging.
States Where Safety Device Requirements Apply
There are three states in addition to Massachusetts and California whose gun storage laws are more specific regarding the devices used to prevent accidents. In Maryland, licensed firearms dealers are not allowed to sell handguns manufactured before 31 December 2002 unless they feature an external safety lock. For those made after this date, the requirement is to have an integrated mechanical safety device. There is a list of state-approved integrated mechanical safety devices that buyers can check prior to purchase to ensure that they will be abiding the law.
The State of New York has general standards applying to locking devices designed for firearms. Locking devices generally fall into two categories: integrated design feature and attachable accessory. The applicable standards are quite general and very basic and this automatically gives you a variety of opportunities, but you must ensure that the device which you select meets them precisely.
Connecticut has basic safety device requirements also. Any handgun sold in the state must be equipped with a trigger lock or a locking device whose construction is strong enough to prevent it from being disabled. Additionally, the locking mechanism should function only with a key or a specially designed accessory which is specific for the particular device.
Differences between Gun Storage and CAP Laws
Right now, 27 states have child access prevention laws applicable to firearms. Also known as CP laws for short, they are usually parallel to the gun safe laws. While both share a common goal – to protect vulnerable youngsters from getting injured and killed – they work in very different ways. Gun storage laws require specific measures to be taken for securing the firearms kept in homes. As we’ve seen, they have different levels of comprehensiveness and strictness at federal level and in the various states. Child access prevention laws, on the other hand, make it possible for the law enforcement authorities to hold adults liable for storing firearms in an irresponsible way when children are present on the property.
There are no federal laws on child access prevention. That is why there are considerable differences between such laws in the states which have them. Some are much stricter than others. There are 14 states where a child gaining access to a firearm as a result of its negligent storage results in the owner being imposed criminal liability. The same applies to the District of Columbia.
Not all child access prevention laws imposing criminal liability for negligent storage are equally strict. In California, the District of Columbia and Minnesota, you can face charges even when a child “is likely” to gain access to a firearm. Simply put, it is possible to go to jail because you have not taken the required protection measures when there is a youngster on the property, even without him or her actually getting hold of the gun and using it in any way. In another two states, Massachusetts and Hawaii, and again in the District of Columbia, you can be charged for negligent storage under the CAP law even in case the firearm is not loaded.
When looking at the child access prevention laws in the different states, you also have to take into account the fact that they have varying definitions of a minor. In most cases, a minor is an individual under the age of 18, but in Illinois, Virginia, Iowa and Wisconsin, the age is 14. This is something which you also have to take into account if you have older children.
Steps You Should Take Right Away
Start by checking exactly what the gun storage law in your state requires, no matter whether you have a firearm or you plan to purchase one. You should then go over the child access prevention law, if there is one. You can find summaries which are quite easy to read. The important thing is to ensure that you abide strictly by the regulations.
The next step is to check if your state has specific gun safe standards in place. As we’ve already seen, these are either general and easy to meet or come with a comprehensive list of devices which meet them. There is an even easier way to find out whether you can purchase a gun safe that you consider if you live in California. You need to use the specially designed online roster tool. When you enter the safe’s model number, you will get a clear answer of whether it is on the list of approved devices or not. It’s always better to refer to the roster and the guides available online even if you are dealing with a reputable licensed dealer.
When buying a gun safe, you must ensure that it meets the state standards, if any, and the industry ones too. While it’s crucial for them to be met, you also have to apply your individual needs and requirements when shopping. One of the key factors to consider is size. You would want to have a sufficient amount of space for keeping ammunitions and accessories.
As you already know, the only state whose gun storage law requires you to keep your firearm in the gun safe at all times is Massachusetts; but this doesn’t mean that you can be careless when it comes to taking this fundamental protection measure. Among the main reasons for this are the strict sanctions imposed by child access prevention laws in most states.
In general, when you have a gun safe, the best thing which you can do is to use it at all times. You can choose to position it in a place in your house where you can access it quickly and easily when you have to take it out. For the rest of the time, the firearm should stay inside with the door closed. You can take yet another simple step for additional protection – change the access code as frequently as possible. This is extremely effective for preventing unauthorized access by household members and especially children.
No matter how strict or relaxed the gun safe law in your state or local area may be, you have to take adequate measures to keep the firearm away from people who could pose danger to themselves and others if they gain access to it. This will reduce the risk of an accident and the commitment of crime using the weapon to the very possible minimum. This is what the owner’s responsibility is primarily about.