With firearms ownership and use comes the issue of how to store guns safely and securely. While there is no single set of guidelines for safe storage that fits every home or circumstance, and no security device guaranteed to be one hundred percent successful at all times, there are certain basic steps that every responsible gun owner should take to store their firearms safely.
Before deciding on the approach most appropriate for your situation, take time to evaluate what you hope to accomplish with your particular storage and security approach. Is your main priority to thwart curious children, irresponsible adults, or intruders? While this is a personal decision, the Americans for Gun Safety Foundation urges all gun owners to store firearms unloaded and securely locked up whenever they not in use.
There are varieties of securing and storage devices that can help. Some are designed to keep the firearm from being loaded or fired, but do not prevent the firearm from being handled. Some are containers that hold the firearm out of sight and out of reach.
Locking devices can be problematic-the Consumer Product Safety Commission recently found that many of the locks currently on the market could be defeated by children. If you have children living in or visiting your home, you should carefully research the safety features of your locking device.
Trigger locks are two-piece devices that fit around the trigger and trigger guard. One side has a post that fits into a hole in the other side. Once in place, they prevent access to the trigger. They are secured either by a key or a combination-activated locking mechanism.
Trigger locks must never be used on loaded firearms, because under certain circumstances they can cause the gun to fire. Unfortunately, they also do not prohibit loading the firearm, nor do they keep the firearm from being handled in an irresponsible manner.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission recently found that many of the locks currently on the market could be defeated by children. If you have children living in or visiting your home, you should carefully research the safety features of your locking device. While there is no national safety standard for gunlocks, the State of California recently adopted very stringent standards for locks that must be met in order for the lock to be sold in California. A list of locks that have been tested and approved is available at http://caag.state.ca.us/firearms/fsdcertlist.htm.
When properly installed, a cable lock can render a firearm inoperable and unloadable. Cable locks are similar to the typical bicycle lock and do have inherent weaknesses. The most obvious is the ease of cutting the cable. Cable locks, as with trigger locks, do not prohibit unsafe handling of the firearm. Avoid inexpensive locks that can be defeated with a minimum of effort.
Metal lock boxes are a reasonably priced compromise between gun safes and trigger or cable lock devices. Lock boxes are designed primarily for handguns, and the firearms within are kept out of sight. Depending on the configuration of the locking and unlocking component, lock boxes leave the guns relatively accessible to the owner during an emergency.
Lock boxes consist of two parts: the box and the locking system. One type of locking system (the Simplex Lock) uses five pushbuttons and a knob. Opening requires a twist of the knob and pushing a sequence of buttons, then turning the knob in the opposite direction. A specialty system designed specifically to defeat youthful entry requires the owner to insert his or her fingers into four openings to depress four plungers to a certain depth. Once depressed, a latch must be pushed with the thumb to open the box. Other devices use electronic locking systems, some of which include a backup key should the battery or power supply fail.
Lock boxes provide reasonable protection for small children, but most can be defeated by pry bars or screwdrivers. Moreover, lock boxes do not deter theft unless they are bolted securely to a floor or wall. Otherwise, they simply can be picked up and hauled away to a place where more attention can be given to opening them.
A traditional method of storing firearms, especially long guns, is to lock them in a glass-faced, wooden gun cabinet. This type of arrangement allows guns to be displayed, but it offers a minimum of security. Metal cabinets, equipped with either key or combination locks, are a step up from the "display" cabinet, but far from the more secure gun safe (described below). The degree of protection offered by such thin-walled containers is minimal against burglars equipped with pry bars, as their construction is similar to a typical metal office filing cabinet. Depending on the quality of the locking mechanism, they do provide more security against curious children.
Gun safes are the most reliable and secure form of firearms storage. Even with gun safes, however, quality and construction vary in thickness of steel walls and durability of locking systems. High-end safes provide good security and storage options. Depending on size, they can be quite heavy, a deterrent in itself against children and all but the most determined and skilled intruders.
One simple way of rendering a firearm inoperable is to take it apart and keep the parts securely locked-up in separate locations. Children are curious by nature; therefore, simply hiding gun parts will not necessarily keep them out of their hands.
Ammunition and Components
Do not lose sight of the importance of providing safe storage for ammunition and ammunition components. Gunpowder, black powder, primers, and percussion caps are themselves extremely dangerous to children, and should be secured as carefully as your firearms. Tales abound of experienced firearms owners keeping open containers of black powder in workshops near spark-producing grinding machines. Situations like this can result in tragedy.
Note: Some states, such as California, Massachusetts, Hawaii, and others, have enacted legislation regarding responsible firearm storage. Check with the office of your state's Attorney General or Police Department for information regarding any legal requirements for safe storage.
Selling a Firearm
Gun safety does not end with the cleaning, storing, and using of a firearm, but with its disposal as well. Should you decide that you want to sell one of your firearms, make sure that the person who is buying your gun is a law-abiding citizen. You should never sell a gun to a stranger without first going to a licensed dealer or your local police, both of whom can perform a background check for you.