Is Your Gun Safely Stored?

By Guest Contributor September 14, 2017 15:14

This is the first in a two-part series of articles on gun safety at home. To read the second, on safety aspects of keeping a gun for self-defense, pick up a copy of FAN’s Autumn 2017 issue at these locations.

By Steve Helsley

Not long ago, the number of firearms in the United States surpassed the human population.

According to the Congressional Research Service and The Washington Post, by 2013 there were 357 million privately owned firearms in the U.S., a country of 317 million people. The gap is growing, too. In recent years, more than eight million guns have been manufactured annually, while our population increases by about 3.3 million per year.

Research indicates that one in three American households – roughly 42 million – have at least one gun. That ratio is likely higher in rural California’s Gold Country, where many FAN readers live. Do you have a gun at home? Is it stored correctly? Do you understand the legal requirements of owning a firearm in our state?

Whether they’re for self-defense, hunting or target shooting, or they’re family heirlooms, bring-backs from wars or valuable collectibles, California law doesn’t spell out how guns must be stored – but does impose criminal penalties for failure to do so. “Proper storage” is meant to keep guns from prohibited persons (those convicted of felonies and certain misdemeanors) and children. As many FAN readers know all too well, the infirmities of aging family members may also necessitate security measures.

California’s firearm laws are extensive and complex, and not grist for this article. Instead, I recommend you buy a copy of California Gun Laws ($29.99 plus shipping) from The author, Chuck Michel, is an attorney whose clients include the National Rifle Association of America in California. The book is easy to understand.

The best place to store firearms is a fire-resistant gun safe. Gun safes come in a variety of sizes and capacities, with built-in racks and shelves and perhaps dehumidifiers, but even a basic one is big, heavy and expensive. Of course, they can also protect documents, jewelry, coin collections and other valuables.

If you have a large or valuable collection, your guns are probably already in a safe. However, if you have one or two family-heirloom guns worth a few hundred bucks, you likely won’t spend a couple of thousand dollars on a safe. Consider a locking steel container or cabinet, such as a large toolbox from a home improvement or auto supply store. Alternatively, sporting goods stores like Big 5 offer lightweight sheet-metal  lockers like those you may have had in high school.

When a safe or a storage box is delivered, it will be rolled into position in your house or garage on a dolly, which means that a burglar can roll it out again just as easily. Bolt it to a wall or the floor – and then come up with a safe way to store the key or combination.

If you don’t intend to use any of your firearms for self-defense, make sure they’re not loaded. If you don’t know how to check this, get competent assistance.

There are all manner of devices meant to prevent the unauthorized discharge of a firearm. If you won’t move Ol’ Betsy from the closet to a secure place, you should at least render her inoperable with a trigger lock. This is a clamshell device that fits around the trigger guard to keep fingers out. If you can’t get to a gun store to find one, shop online; one site I use is Prices start at less than $5.

Another solution is an ordinary padlock that can be closed around the top strap of a revolver, to prevent the cylinder from being closed. Similarly, a padlock with a long hasp (like a bicycle lock) passed through the magazine well can deactivate a semi-automatic pistol.

However, trigger locks and padlocks by themselves don’t prevent theft. For this, you’ll need a cable with loops in the end, as on bicycle locks. Pass the cable through the gun and around something relatively unmovable, and then clip the padlock through the cable loops. Now you have an inoperable firearm – rifle, shotgun or handgun – that will require bolt cutters to steal. Once you determine the proper cable length, a hardware store can make up what you need.

The same cable and padlock can secure several guns. To prevent them from banging against each other, pass the cable through slots cut in a fabric gun slip or an inexpensive plastic case, as well as through the guns themselves.

Security devices that completely enclose a handgun are also available, and I will cover these in Part 2 of this article.

Here’s a very basic responsible-ownership question: Do you know what kind of firearms you own? Can you describe them by make, model, serial number and the cartridge they fire?

Beginning July 1, 2017, California law will require that lost or stolen firearms be reported to police. The officer taking your burglary report won’t be impressed if the best description you can provide is, “Er, five guns with, um, wood stocks and metal parts.”

Even if they’re recovered, with such a lack of detail, chances are you’ll never see them again. And if you file an insurance claim for stolen property, how much are “five guns with wood stocks and metal parts” worth?

Know your insurance company’s expectations concerning documentation of guns – and their storage, which might differ from California’s. With digital cameras, smartphones and computers, it’s easy to take and archive photos of your guns (and their accessories, such as special sights or cases, which may be as valuable as the guns themselves).

About now some of you are probably thinking, This is too much hassle, I’ll just give Ol’ Betsy to that nice fellow down the street. But – as also spelled out in California Gun Laws – in our state you can’t just present a gun to someone. The transfer must be through a licensed firearms dealer, the recipient must pass a background check, and then the gun must be registered. This requires time, travel and fees.

One option is to ask a local licensed firearms dealer for an evaluation. Ol’ Betsy may or may not have significant value, and could be given to, sold to or put on consignment with that dealer.

There are other solutions to the challenges of owning a gun, but the first step is to focus your attention: If you do own a firearm, it is your legal responsibility to store it properly.

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 is historian for the London gunmaker John Rigby & Co. Read his 2016 FAN story, “The Mystery of Hemingway’s Guns,” at

Copyright  © 2017 Friends and Neighbors Magazine

By Guest Contributor September 14, 2017 15:14
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