Atty. Ralph D. Sherman
130 West Main Street New Britain, Connecticut 06052
tel. (860) 229-0213 fax (860) 229-0235 e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
How to store guns: What the law requires
"Whats the law about storage of firearms? Are the police going from house to house searching for guns that arent locked up?" G.M.
Connecticut has three statutes about storage of firearms. Two statutes define crimes. The third creates civil (lawsuit) liability.
Section 29-37i defines a misdemeanor crime: "No person shall store or keep any loaded firearm on any premises under his control if he knows or reasonably should know that a minor is likely to gain access to the firearm without the permission of the parent or guardian of the minor unless such person (1) keeps the firearm in a securely locked box or other container or in a location which a reasonable person would believe to be secure or (2) carries the firearm on his person or within such close proximity thereto that he can readily retrieve and use it as if he carried it on his person. For the purposes of this section, "minor" means any person under the age of sixteen years."
This type of unlawful storage is considered a misdemeanor and carries a maximum penalty of $100 per firearm. A conviction could also cause the revocation of your pistol permit on the basis that you are not "a suitable person" to hold a pistol permit.
The statute does not mean that the police can simply show up at your door and demand to see how you store your firearms. If the police can show probable cause to believe that you are violating the statute, they could ask a judge to sign a search warrant, but thats an unlikely scenario for this particular crime. Instead, every time Ive had a client who was charged under this statute, the police were already in the house for some other reason. Usually a family member called the police because of violence, or a neighbor heard what sounded like fighting. While the police were inside, they observed a child and a loose firearm. So the owner was charged with unlawful storage under Section 29-37i.
If you have small children in your home, you shouldnt have to be told to keep your guns locked up. This applies even more if the children arent your own. For example, I had a bachelor client who hired a woman to clean his apartment once a week. She usually brought her 4-year-old with her. Although the bachelor had no children residing with him, the visiting child gave plenty of reason to make sure guns were inaccessible.
But what if you have a child who is under the statutes arbitrary age of 16 but whom you are sure is responsible and knowledgeable enough to have access to firearms? This is hardly an unusual situation. For example, children are eligible for junior hunting licenses at age 12. They have to take the hunter-safety course, which includes firearms safety. Obviously the parents of these junior hunters believe the children can handle guns safely.
In my own family, we have a home-defense plan in case someone breaks into our house at night. Although my wife and I are ready to handle such a situation alone or together, it would be advantageous to have more "good guys" on our team. Im sure our children will be ready to help before theyre 16.
The best way to deal with the statute under these circumstances is to keep the firearms locked up but to give the trained, responsible child the knowledge needed for access. That means telling the child the combination to the safe or the location of a hidden key. If youre worried that your child will boast about this knowledge to friends or play "show and tell," then your child isnt ready. To stay out of trouble with the storage law, it will have to be a family secret that your child knows how to access the firearms.
The second statute on firearms storage is Section 53a-217a. It provides that a person is guilty of a Class D felony when he violates Section 29-37i (the misdemeanor statute) and a person under 16 obtains a firearm and causes the injury or death of himself or any other person. The felony statute does provide an exemption for any case in which the minor obtains the firearm as a result of an unlawful entry to any premises by any person. This means that if you leave a gun unsecured in your home or other premises, and a burglar (of any age) steals the gun, and a person under 16 obtains the gun and hurts someone with it, you cannot be prosecuted under the felony statute. But note the words "unlawful entry." If the gun was stolen by a lawful visitorfriend, relative, repairman, etc.you may be on the hook.
The third statute on firearms storage is similar to the felony statute. Section 52-571g provides that if you violate the misdemeanor statute, and a person under 16 obtains the firearm and hurts someone with it, you can be held liable in civil court for the third partys injury or death. This liability is based on your negligence (carelessness) as defined in the misdemeanor statute: failure to store the firearm in a way that "a reasonable person would believe to be secure."
"Safe storage" laws are like most other gun laws. Theyre obeyed by persons who would do the right thing whether there were a law or not. Research on gun safety has shown that persons who have accidents with guns tend to be careless or reckless with other tools. They have no hesitation about having a few drinks and getting behind the steering wheel or starting up a chain saw. Safety warnings mean nothing to this type of person. Why would they react any differently to a law about firearms storage?
For now, however, the rest of us have to deal with it.
Copyright 2002 by Ralph D. Sherman