Gun Storage, Again

Philipstown to hold hearing on revised proposal to require locks

By Liz Schevtchuk Armstrong

As gun-rights advocates watched warily, the Philipstown Town Board on Wednesday (Jan. 17) scheduled a public hearing on a proposed law requiring that a resident lock up a firearm if leaving home without it.

The hearing, set for Feb. 21, will be held at the Haldane school auditorium or another venue large enough for the expected crowd. The board did not discuss details of the proposed “safe-storage” law, intended to protect children.

Shortly before the meeting, Putnam County District Attorney Robert Tendy submitted a five-page memo objecting to the proposal. Unable to attend the workshop, Tendy wrote that he hoped his critique could be read aloud by an audience member. However, because the board took no comments from the floor, his views remained on paper — for the night, anyway.

New York State law requires gun owners to use a locking device on any weapon not in their immediate control if the owner lives with someone who cannot legally possess a firearm because he or she is a felon, has been involuntarily committed for mental health treatment, is subject to a protective order or has been convicted of domestic violence.

A gun lock

New York, though, is not among the 27 states that require gun safes or trigger locks in the presence of children, according to the Giffords Law Center, which advocates gun control.

Since raising the gun-storage issue in the fall of 2016, the Town Board has considered various versions of the proposal. When it re-opened the debate in December, its draft stipulated that “no owner or custodian of a firearm shall leave” it “out of his or her immediate possession or control in a residence without” having given it to a responsible custodian, stored it in a locked container, or disabled it with a safety lock. The text focused on “possession or control” of a gun.

The latest draft, the subject of the Feb. 21 hearing, places more emphasis on the gun owner’s presence in a house. It requires that a gun owner never leave a weapon “out of his or her possession or control in a residence” while knowing, or having reason to know, that a child under age 18 is there, unless that owner also is present, gave the gun to a lawful custodian for safekeeping, placed it in a locked container, or disabled it with a safety locking device.

The text says the Town Board has determined that in the gun-owner’s absence the gun “should be kept locked or stored securely to prevent theft and/or access by children.”

While most gun safes are standard lock boxes, there are versions that can be affixed under a desk or to the side of a bed.

Those convicted of breaking the Philipstown law could face fines of up to $1,000, up to a year’s imprisonment in the county jail, or both. But the draft says no penalties would apply if a person reports to police that a handgun has been lost or stolen.

Tendy attacked the proposed law for several reasons, including the belief it “is unenforceable” because the U.S. Constitution bans unlawful search and seizure.

Safe Storage in Beacon

The City Council in December 2016 passed a law that requires guns to be secured in a safe or with a trigger lock in the presence of anyone under age 16.

“There is no legal way for any law enforcement agency to enforce the law absent illegal spying or entry into the home of a citizen,” he argued. He acknowledged that the draft law reflects “a good intention.” Nonetheless, he added, even if motivated by good intentions, “no governing body can curtail the constitutionally protected rights of United States citizens.”

Tendy also questioned the provision on lost and stolen guns. “There appears to be an unfortunate presumption that a firearm being stolen would be the result of a violation of this proposed law,” he cautioned. “A legal presumption in this type of law is ill-advised.”

6 thoughts on “Gun Storage, Again

  1. The Fourth Amendment says it all. No warrant, no search. The Town Board should stop wasting time on the issue. You can’t fix stupid. People will keep getting hurt with stupidity. When it happens and a law was broken, the courts can nail them.

  2. I can raise no objection to a law that seeks to protect children from firearm mishap. Speaking from personal experience, the extra few minutes it takes to secure a weapon in a safe repository both protects the family and gives the owner peace of mind. As a long-time handgun owner, I found it no inconvenience to lock them in a small safe when not in use. I could leave the house knowing that my children had no possible access to a weapon.

    In my opinion, this isn’t about whether the gun owner would get caught flouting the law as a result of an illegal search; it’s about taking every precaution to keep guns out of unlicensed and underage hands.

  3. What good is a law if it cannot be enforced, monitored or be seen by the outside of a residence? Do you know how many illegal searches it would take to “flout the law” breakers? So, yes, it has to do with a law that can’t be enforced.

  4. A police officer cannot usually tell if I have my seat belt on. But if I have an accident while not belted in, I can be charged. The point of the seat belt law is to encourage on pain of punishment (a monetary fine) the desired conduct: namely, that I fasten my seat belt. This is just an analogy. In the gun storage case, the existence of a storage law would likely also establish a “standard of care” such that failure to observe could lead to almost automatic tort liability. That means a money judgement against you. That should encourage compliance. I agree with Mr. Soodalter that safe-storage laws would help keep children from getting ahold of guns, as well as other prohibited individuals.

  5. You don’t need a search warrant for that law. I wonder how many people in Putnam County have had an incident involving handguns not locked up in the last 10 years. I have been shot. I was 14 at the time. The gun was locked. I found a way to get it open. I loaded it with the clip. I put a round in the chamber. After a while I took the clip out but forgot there was a round in the chamber. The gun fired and the bullet bounced around the room and went through my left arm, shattering the bone. It was not a handgun, it was a long barrel. My point is if a child of a certain age wants to get to a gun, he or she will. I did. In saying that, I still am against any law that is not enforceable as the Fourth Amendment is written.

  6. If a weapon is discharged by a child and someone is injured or killed, police called to the scene should reasonably be able to detect, or infer, the circumstances. In that case, the police, using this law, could charge the owner of the weapon for failing to keep it locked away. Violations of statutes are often difficult to detect — think of complex financial frauds — but that fact does not mean the statute is unenforceable, or even necessarily eliminate their value as a deterrent. Gently nudging homeowners to lock up their weapons, using this well-publicized law as the prod, will save lives, especially the precious lives of children.