If you are reading this article, you are likely a gunowner, prospective owner, or have enough curiosity to scroll through this topic. In any case, thank you for taking the time to do so. If you are a current gun owner, how do you secure your firearms when not in use? If you are a prospective gun owner, how do you intend to secure your firearm and have you factored secure storage as part of your first purchase? In this article, I will briefly highlight the legal and practical benefits of secure gun storage.
Legal, Moral and Practical Aspects
While the pro-gun and anti-gun movements bitterly differ on many data points and issues, I believe that both agree on the principle that unsecured guns contribute to accidental shooting incidents and can enable the unlawful use of firearms. All emotional arguments aside… it is clearly logical that properly secured firearms cannot possibly contribute to an accident or a crime. Furthermore, in a 2005 study, Dr. David Crossman found that the practices of keeping firearms locked, unloaded and storing ammunition in a locked location separate from firearms serve as a “protective effect” and may assist in reducing youth suicide and unintentional injury in homes with children and teenagers where guns are stored. (click here to read Dr. Crossman’s study)
Currently, there are no federal laws governing the safe storage of firearms in the home. In October 2005, the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act was signed into law which required all handgun sales to include a gun safety device. Most of us have seen this in the form of cable locks. While this requirement may seem insignificant, its legal protections for gun owners are considerable. This does not mandate use of a secure storage container, or mechanical lock… it only stipulates that use of such a device protects the owner in certain circumstances. From the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence web site, “The law also immunizes any person who is in lawful possession and control of a handgun and who uses a secure gun storage or safety device with the handgun, from a “qualified civil liability action.” “Qualified civil liability action” is defined as a civil action for damages resulting from the criminal or unlawful misuse of a handgun by a third party if: 1) the handgun was accessed by another person who did not have the authorization of the lawful possessor; and 2) at the time the handgun was accessed it had been made inoperable by the use of a secure gun storage or safety device.”
Be advised, however, that certain state laws specify different requirements for the use of secure containers or mechanical locks. Also from the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence web site: “Eleven states have laws concerning firearm locking devices. Massachusetts is the only state that generally requires that all firearms be stored with a lock in place; California, Connecticut, and New York impose this requirement in certain situations. Other state laws regarding locking devices are similar to the federal law, in that they require locking devices to accompany certain guns manufactured, sold, or transferred. Five of the eleven states also set standards for the design of locking devices or require them to be approved by a state agency for effectiveness.” (see table below)
OK… so with any luck, you are sufficiently convinced that current and future gun owners bear a legal and moral responsibility to secure their firearms. But which method works best?
Trigger Locks – mechanical devices that literally “clamp” onto the trigger guard and make it virtually impossible to manually initiate the firing sequence. These can be key or combination activated.
Pros: Trigger locks represent a cost-effective manner to comply with applicable laws and achieve peace of mind. These are difficult to defeat (cut) and are easily recognizable by law enforcement and the legal system as an active safety measure. These are best used for long-term storage or travel.
Cons: These are not ideal for firearms used in home or self-defense. The locks can be “finicky” at times and key management can be problematic for owners of multiple firearms. While it is possible to purchase “packs” of trigger locks keyed the same, most gun collections grow over time and would thus require coding and maintaining multiple keys.
Cable Locks – as mentioned above, the cable lock is the most common type of firearm safety device. Most manufacturers adopted this method in order to comply with the 2005 Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. These cables can be run through the bore, the receiver, or the cylinder. These locks can be key or combination activated.
Pros: These present a very low cost option and are often included in the packaging of new firearm purchases. As you can see in the photo above, they are versatile and adaptable to a variety of firearms.
Cons: Similar to the trigger lock, these are not ideal for firearms used in home or self-defense. Also similar to the trigger lock, cables can be purchased in “packs” keyed the same, but key management becomes a problem with large firearm collections. An additional con specific to the cable lock is the relative ease in which they can be defeated (cut).
Magazine Safety Devices – Operating under the theory that a firearm that cannot possibly be loaded with ammunition cannot possibly be fired, manufacturers have recently introduced a device that locks into the magazine well and chamber, thus preventing the operation of the firearm.
Pros: This method of rendering a firearm temporarily inoperable is potentially easier to insert than a trigger guard (which can be challenging if if the pins do not line-up). Additionally, it appears that these magazine well inserts would be much more difficult to defeat than a cable lock.
Cons: Similar to the other two mechanical locks, this is not ideal for home or self-defense and introduces the same key management problems. These tend to cost more than trigger locks and cable locks, but the biggest drawback is that they are completely firearm model specific. The other two can be used for various models, the magazine safety device can only be used for semi-automatic firearms with magazine wells incorporated into the design.
Traditional Safes – It is almost impossible to lump the vast array of options under one heading. Safes come in so many different sizes (cubic feet), anti-theft and anti-intrusion measures (steel thickness, hinge design, etc), and fire protection levels. However, the one aspect these have in common is that rifles, pistols, shotguns, and valuable items can be placed in one area with one lock (key, combination, or biometric). Firearms kept in a quality safe satisfy the definition of security container and prevent unauthorized access that can lead to accidents or unlawful use. For more information, click here to access an information resource on gun safes.
Pros: With a quality anti-intrusion constructed safe, all firearms and valuables can be kept in one very secure location under one lock (or combination, etc). A quality safe assures that unauthorized personnel (children, intruders, etc.) cannot access the firearms. The weight of the safe combined with anchoring options assure, within reason, that firearms cannot be stolen and sold or used in crimes. Insulation and fire resistance can assure that these valuables are not destroyed in the event of a fire.
Cons: Quality safes can be expensive and difficult to move. Depending on the location in the house and the access method (key, dial, keypad, biometric), it may or may not be ideal for storing home defense weapons. Low-quality safes (such as gun cabinets) can be somewhat easily defeated or simply stolen if not anchored.
Portable or Specific-Use Security Containers – Again, these vary in construction and anti-intrusion ability. Many of these devices do, in fact, satisfy the requirement for firearm storage in a security container in the home or while traveling. They key here is to understand that these designs trade true anti-intrusion for rapid accessibility under desired circumstances.
Pros: These devices are ideal for firearms used in home or self defense to augment the long-term storage of all other firearms secured in the home. These devices offer secure storage and rapid access via key, combination, or biometric means, customized to the owner’s intended purpose and circumstance. These are far superior to mechanical locking devices and can be placed for access more rapid than a traditional safe allows.
Cons: These are not safes. They have acceptable anti-intrusion capabilities, but the entire unit and its contents can, in many cases, be stolen.
I believe that we’ve made the case for current and future gun owners to secure their firearms. There are federal protections for those who do, laws that require it in certain states, and the moral imperative for actively aware citizens in our society to take reasonable measures to prevent unlawful access to firearms which will reduce the instances of firearm-related accidents, injuries, deaths, and criminal use.
In this article, I’ve offered a few legal viewpoints and some possible devices to comply with the legal and moral aspects firearm ownership. As we’ve seen, laws can rapidly change at the federal, state, and local level. So can technology. As a responsible gun owner or prospective gun owner, it is incumbent upon you to stay abreast of the laws that govern gun ownership in your locale. Furthermore, Aegis Academy espouses Fit, Function, and Finances as the three principles to select the right firearm. I believe that these three principles equally apply to selecting a firearm safety device. With the information provided above, I believe that there is something that fits your personal “3-F’s.”
In the end, I strongly believe that gun safety is not about a particular device… it is about the person who owns, operates, and secures/stores the gun. I don’t believe that there is any way to “legislate safety.” Only responsible, educated, and safe individuals can make a difference. Thank you for taking the time to read this article and for doing your part as a fellow member of this community who is dedicated to making it safer every day through your personal actions.
If you have any questions or stories to share in regard to keeping your guns secure, please share them with me at HHall@aegisacademy.com
Stay safe and shoot straight!