Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence | Safe Storage
Posted on August 23 2020
Safe gun storage refers to practices that limit accessibility to guns by unauthorized users, including minors and thieves. These practices can include locking guns in a secure place such as a gun safe or cabinet or using safety devices such as trigger or cable locks. The most secure way to store firearms, as recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics, is to store them unloaded, locked, and separate from ammunition.1
More than half of all gun owners store at least one gun unsafely—without any locks or other safe storage measures.2
- In fact, nearly a quarter of all gun owners report storing all of their guns in an unlocked location in the home.3
- While some data suggests that gun owners with children in the home are slightly more likely than other gun owners to store firearms safely,4 roughly 4.6 million minors live in homes with loaded, unlocked firearms.5
Unsecured guns in the home pose a substantial risk to children who may find and use them against themselves or others.
- Household guns are a major source of weapons used by youth in violence against themselves or others. Between 70 and 90% of guns used in youth suicides, unintentional shootings among children, and school shooting perpetrated by shooters under the age of 18 are acquired from the home or the homes of relatives or friends.6
- Accordingly, the risk of suicide and unintentional shootings among youth increases in homes where guns are kept loaded and/or unlocked.7
Unsecured weapons in homes and vehicles are also fueling an epidemic of gun thefts across the country. These guns may be diverted to the underground market, where they are used in crime.
- Nationally–representative survey data suggests that approximately 380,000 guns are stolen from individual gun owners each year.8
- From 2006 to 2016, the number of guns reported stolen from individuals increased by approximately 60%.9 Similarly, many cities have reported alarming spikes in the number of firearms stolen from cars.10
- An analysis of more than 23,000 stolen firearms recovered by police between 2010 and 2016 found that the majority of these weapons were recovered in connection with crimes, including more than 1,500 violent acts such as murder, kidnapping, and armed robbery.11
Safe storage behavior can help to mitigate the risks of unsecured guns, with studies showing that these practices can prevent both firearm injuries and gun thefts.
- Estimates suggest that modest increases in the number of American homes safely storing firearms could prevent almost a third of youth gun deaths due to suicide and unintentional firearm injury.12
- Compared with people who stored their firearms unlocked and/or loaded, those who stored their firearms safely were less likely to die by firearm suicide.13
- Gun owners who do not safely store their firearms are significantly more likely to have their guns stolen.14
Safe storage laws may help increase compliance with safe storage behaviors. In fact, one study found that states with a law in place that required handguns to be locked at least in certain circumstances experienced reduced rates of firearm suicide.15
SUMMARY OF FEDERAL LAW
In October 2005, as part of the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, Congress passed and the President signed into law legislation making it unlawful for any licensed importer, manufacturer or dealer to sell or transfer any handgun unless the transferee is provided with a secure gun storage or safety device.16 The law includes various exceptions, including transfers to other federal firearms licensees, law enforcement officers, and federal, state or local agencies.17 The legislation does not apply to transfers by private sellers, and does not require that transferees use the device.18
There are no current federal standards for locking devices.19 On January 16, 2013, President Obama signed a series of executive orders to address gun violence and school safety in the wake of the Newtown, Connecticut school massacre in December 2012. One of these orders calls for the Consumer Product Safety Commission to review the effectiveness of gun locks and gun safes, including existing voluntary industry standards, and take any steps that may be warranted to improve the standards. As stated by the President: “We also need to make sure that gun locks and gun safes work as intended. Several gun locks have been subject to recall due to their failure to function properly; that is not acceptable.”20
SUMMARY OF STATE LAW
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.
|State||Firearms Must Be Kept Locked||Locks Must Accompany Dealer Sales||Locks Must Accompany Private Sales||Locks Must Meet Standards or Be Approved|
|Connecticut22||Sometimes||Handguns only||Handguns only||Yes|
|Massachusetts25||Yes||Handguns and assault weapons only26||Handguns and assault weapons only||Yes|
|New Jersey28||Handguns only||Handguns only|
|Rhode Island32||Handguns only|
DESCRIPTION OF STATE LAWS REGARDING THE SAFE STORAGE OF FIREARMS
For citations to these laws, please see the table above.
States Requiring that All Firearms be Stored with a Locking Device in Place
Massachusetts is the only state that requires that all firearms be stored with a locking device in place when the firearms are not in use. The state bars storing or keeping any firearm unless it is secured in a locked container or equipped with a tamper-resistant mechanical lock or other safety device. This requirement does not apply to any firearm “carried by or under the control of the owner or other lawfully authorized user.”
The District of Columbia has established a strong, yet non-binding policy that each firearm registrant should keep any firearm in his or her possession unloaded and either disassembled or secured by a trigger lock, gun safe, locked box, or other secure device.33
States Requiring that Firearms be Stored with a Locking Device in Place if the Person Resides with a Prohibited Person
Three states require firearms to be stored with a locking device in place if the person resides with someone who is ineligible to possess firearms. New York enacted a law in 2013 that requires a firearm owner to keep his or her firearm locked if he or she lives with a convicted felon, a domestic abuser, or a person with a federally prohibitive mental health history. California enacted a similar law that requires a firearm owner to keep his or her firearm in a locked container or secured with a locking device if he or she lives with a person prohibited under state or federal law from possessing a firearm. Connecticut’s law is also similar, but it only applies to loaded firearms.
A number of states require safe storage of firearms in circumstances where children are likely to access the firearms. These laws are discussed in our summary on Child Access Prevention.
States Requiring Locking Devices with All Firearms Manufactured, Sold or Transferred in the State
California has the most comprehensive laws with respect to firearm locking devices. In California, all firearms manufactured in the state, or sold or transferred by a state licensed dealer (including private transfers conducted through licensed dealers) must include or be accompanied by a firearm safety device approved by the state Department of Justice. A firearm safety device is defined as “a device other than a gun safe that locks and is designed to prevent children and other unauthorized users from firing a firearm. The device may be installed on a firearm, be incorporated into the design of the firearm, or prevent access to the firearm.” Sales and transfers by licensed dealers are exempt if the purchaser provides proof of ownership of an approved safety device or gun safe meeting state standards.
In Massachusetts, any handgun or assault weapon sold without a safety device designed to prevent discharge by unauthorized users is considered to be defective. The sale of such a weapon constitutes a breach of warranty and an unfair or deceptive trade act or practice.34
States Requiring Locking Devices on All Firearms Transferred by Licensed Dealers
New York prohibits retail sales of firearms without a locking device, which may be an external device or integrated in the design of the firearm. Michigan prohibits licensed dealers from selling a firearm unless the sale includes a trigger lock or gun case or other storage container. This does not apply if the purchaser presents to the dealer at the time of sale of the firearm a trigger lock, gun case or storage container, together with a copy of the receipt for the trigger lock or storage container. In Ohio, at the time of sale of any firearm, a dealer must offer to sell the purchaser a trigger lock, gun lock or gun locking device appropriate for that firearm.
States Requiring Locking Devices with Handgun Sales
Connecticut and New Jersey require locking devices on all handguns sold in the state. The laws in four other states (Illinois, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island) are similar to federal law, and require trigger locks only on all handguns sold by retail dealers. New Jersey prohibits the delivery of a handgun to any person unless it is accompanied by a trigger lock or locked gun case, gun box, container or other secure facility. Similarly, in Connecticut, all handguns sold or transferred (other than at wholesale) must be equipped with a trigger lock or other locking device.
In Illinois, the device may be an external safety device or an integrated mechanical safety device. Maryland’s statute provides that handguns manufactured after Jan. 1, 2003, must have an integrated mechanical safety device. (Both Illinois and Maryland define “integrated mechanical safety device” as a disabling or locking device that is built into the handgun and designed to prevent the handgun from being discharged unless the device has been deactivated). In Rhode Island, licensed retail dealers may not deliver any handgun to a purchaser without providing a trigger lock or other safety device designed to prevent unauthorized users from operating the handgun. In Pennsylvania, sales of handguns by licensed dealers must be accompanied by a locking device. “Locking device” is defined as either: 1) a device that, when installed on a firearm, is designed to prevent the firearm from being operated without first deactivating the device; or 2) a device that is incorporated into the design of a firearm and designed to prevent the operation of the firearm by anyone not having access to the device.
States that Set Standards for Locking Devices or Maintain a Roster of Approved Devices
California has the most comprehensive standards for locking devices. Through rules promulgated by the Attorney General, California requires testing of and sets standards for firearm locking devices. Locking devices are tested by certified laboratories, and those found to meet standards are listed in a roster of approved devices that may be sold in the state. The state may randomly retest samples to ensure continued compliance. California prohibits any person from commercially selling any firearm safety device that is not listed on the roster.
Maryland and Massachusetts maintain rosters of approved locking devices. In Maryland, the list of “Approved Integrated Mechanical Safety Devices” is issued by the state Handgun Roster Board. In Massachusetts, safety devices must be approved by the Colonel of the Department of State Police.
The New York State Police has also promulgated general standards for locking devices, requiring, among other things, that the device must: 1) open only by either a numeric combination, key, magnetic key or electronic key; and 2) be constructed with such quality of workmanship and material that it may not be pried open easily, removed or otherwise defeated by the use of “common household tools.” Similarly, Connecticut law requires that locking devices be constructed of material strong enough to prevent them from being easily disabled, and must be accessible by key or electronic or mechanical accessory specific to the locking device to prevent unauthorized removal.
SELECTED LOCAL LAWS
New York City
New York City requires any lawful owner or custodian of a firearm to render his or her weapon inoperable by use of a safety locking device while the weapon is out of his or her immediate possession or control.35 New York City also requires the inclusion of a safety locking device with the transfer of a firearm. The city prohibits the transfer of any firearm without a “safety locking device,” defined as “a design adaptation or attachable accessory that will prevent the use of the weapon by an unauthorized user.”36 In addition, no person may obtain a firearm without purchasing or obtaining a safety locking device at the same time.
In 2012, a New York trial court upheld the City’s ordinance37 on the basis that the law was not a complete ban on handgun possession in the home as was the case in Heller v. District of Columbia,38 the seminal case in which the United States Supreme Court held that law abiding, responsible citizens have a right to possess a handgun in the home for self-defense. Because individuals could easily and quickly enable their guns for self-defense, the court found that the ordinance did not violate the Second Amendment.39
San Francisco, California
San Francisco prohibits any person from keeping a handgun within a residence unless the handgun is stored in a locked container or disabled with a trigger lock unless the handgun is carried on the person.40 Unlike the laws of some other jurisdictions, San Francisco does not exempt a person who keeps his or her handgun within his or her immediate control from the requirements of the statute.
The National Rifle Association and individual plaintiffs sued in federal court to overturn San Francisco’s safe storage law on Second Amendment grounds.41 The law was upheld by both the district court and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. In upholding the law, the Ninth Circuit recognized that unlike the District of Columbia law at issue in Heller v. District of Columbia,42 the San Francisco ordinance does not prohibit a person from carrying a loaded handgun while in his or her home. The Court also held that a safely stored gun can be accessed from a safe or enabled within a few seconds. The increased time it takes for a gun owner to access his or her gun is negligible, therefore, it does not place an impermissible burden on the Second Amendment rights of gun owners.43
The City of Sunnyvale prohibits a person from keeping a firearm in any residence owned or controlled by that person unless the firearm is stored in a locked container, or the firearm is disabled with a trigger lock, when it is not carried on the person or in his or her immediate control and possession.44 The ordinance requires a person who choses to use a trigger lock to use one that is listed on the California Department of Justice’s list of approved firearms safety devices.
Albany, New York
In September, 2015, the City of Albany enacted an ordinance prohibiting any person who owns or is a custodian of a firearm from storing or leaving out of his or her possession and control, a firearm that is not disabled by a locking mechanism or securely locked in a safe storage depository.45 The depository must be incapable of being opened without the key, combination or other unlocking mechanism and capable of preventing an unauthorized person from obtaining access to and possession of the firearm contained therein.46
KEY LEGISLATIVE ELEMENTS
The features listed below are intended to provide a framework from which policy options may be considered. A jurisdiction considering new legislation should consult with counsel.
- All firearms are required to be kept disabled with a locking device except when an authorized user is carrying it on his or her person or has the firearm under his or her immediate control (Massachusetts, New York City).
- Locking devices are required on all firearms manufactured, sold or transferred in the jurisdiction (California).
- Standards are set for locking devices (California, Connecticut, New York).
- Locking devices are tested and approved by a certified independent lab before they may be sold in the jurisdiction (California).
- A roster is maintained of approved locking devices (California, Massachusetts; Maryland maintains a roster of approved locking devices, but only for handguns).