A Gun for Self-Defense? Think Carefully

By Guest Contributor September 15, 2017 21:15

This is the second in a two-part series about gun safety at home. Part 1, “Is your gun safely stored?” appeared in our summer issue and is now online at seniorfan.com.

By Steve Helsley

Every aspect of firearm ownership – from yea or nay to storing or carrying a self-defense gun, to who should be allowed to do this and where, to the type of gun and how to use it – has become the subject of legislation, heated debate and countless magazine articles and books. My goal here is simply to outline the broad issues you must consider in making this decision.

Your first question should be, “Am I willing to take a life in order to defend myself, my family or my property?”

Personal ethics aside, there is a significant body of law in California dedicated to this. Previously I mentioned California Gun Laws: Fourth Edition by C.D. Michel (Coldaw Publishing, Long Beach, CA). That and another publication – California Firearms Laws Summary: 2016, available free at oag.ca.gov – explain when deadly force in self-defense may be appropriate.

The next question to ask yourself is, “Can I legally own a gun?” This might sound silly, but did you do something decades ago, perhaps with controlled substances way back in the swinging ’60s, that prohibits you from owning a firearm today?

If by now you’ve decided that yes, a gun is permissible and yes, it should be for self-defense, you still have much to think about. You need to select the type of firearm – handgun, shotgun or rifle – then the model and caliber, and become competent in its use. This is no small matter, especially for those of us with the diminished eyesight, hand strength and coordination that often accompany our Golden Years. I strongly recommend you get expert advice and coaching on each of these issues.

You also must assess your home and the nature and frequency of your visitors. And – this is critically important – you must understand and comply with California law concerning the storage of firearms.

Safely and legally keeping a gun at home can be reasonably straightforward and inexpensive. Having a gun on hand – but still secure – for self-defense at short notice is another matter. If, for example, you intend to leave a loaded gun on the night stand or behind a door, consider this excerpt from California Gun Laws:  “. . . . you may be prosecuted for criminally storing a firearm if you keep a loaded firearm anywhere under your custody or control where you know, or reasonably should know, a child or a person prohibited from possessing firearms under state or federal law is likely to gain unpermitted access to it, and death or great bodily injury occurs as a result.”

You are also subject to prosecution if your gun is “only” brandished or even just shown off by someone else. The someone else – a child or any unauthorized person – need not cause harm. All he or she must do is take the gun out in public for you to be charged. If you have grandkids, extended family, caregivers, plumbers, painters or electricians streaming through the house, your risk could be significant.

Most people choose a handgun for self-defense, and these days every new gun comes with an accessory trigger lock that requires a key or a combination. Such devices are slow to access and do nothing to prevent theft. For that there are lockboxes that read your fingerprints or require a touch code, allowing you to safely keep a gun bolted to, let’s say, a night stand. (I suggest a lockbox that allows the gun to be stored loaded. Loading a gun under stress can be a real challenge.)

Note however that there are few such quick-access locking devices for long guns – rifles and shotguns.

Whatever locking system you choose, learn to operate it under stress too. Can you remember the combination? Are your fingers nimble enough to open it? You should also have a good flashlight nearby and a well-thought-out plan – which includes dialing 911 – for what to do if you hear a window shatter at 2 a.m.

Surely some FAN readers already have a permit to carry a concealed handgun in public. Wearing a gun can, for a variety of reasons, become problematic, and there are also places where concealed carry is prohibited even with a permit, such as the State Capitol, any legislative office or even “Sterile Areas” of an airport. Thus, a gun often winds up left in the car.

Now the legal gun-storage challenge extends beyond the home to the vehicle. Cars and trucks can simply be locked, right?

Yes, but last year Gov. Jerry Brown signed SB 869, which requires anyone leaving a handgun in an unattended vehicle to lock it in the trunk, lock it in a container placed out of plain view or place it in a locked container “permanently affixed” to the vehicle’s interior and not in plain view.

For this, a device such as the Stack-On Portable Security Case, with its lock and cable, would seem ideal, especially as it’s thin enough to fit between or below car seats.

But as is so often the case with gun laws, much is left undefined. What constitutes “permanently affixed” is left up to law enforcement and prosecutors to determine.

A reasonable person would conclude that a steel cable connecting a locked steel box to the steel frame of a car seat is “permanently affixed” enough, but until this is tested in court, who really knows?

The use of lethal force, or even the potential for it, is sobering and requires both mental and physical preparation.

Know yourself and your gun; secure it properly at home and away; know the law and have a plan.

Foothills resident Steve Helsley, 71, is a firearms expert retired from the California Department of Justice. A former NRA lobbyist, he is the author or coauthor of five books and scores of magazine articles and serves as historian for the London gunmaker John Rigby & Co. Read his 2016 FAN story, “The Mystery of Hemingway’s Guns,” at seniorfan.com.

Copyright © 2017 Friends and Neighbors Magazine

By Guest Contributor September 15, 2017 21:15
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