Authored by: Mike Ooley
First, let me say that every gun owner should always ensure that his/her firearms are always secured and are not accessible to unauthorized or untrained individuals - notice the emphasis on ALWAYS! Unfortunately, there are those, some that are even pro freedom and pro gun, who believe we should cede ground and get out of the way with respect to "safe storage laws." Many people accept the premise that the mere presence of firearms in the home poses a threat to the lives and safety of the children and adults in the home. Some would even accept the notion that firearms in the home pose a "severe" risk. Usually, the propaganda machines will also sling around the term "common sense" at the same time and that "safe storage laws" might "save one child". I would ask that you take a few moments to consider the points below before deciding to support, oppose or remain silent on this issue.
Many of us who believe in freedom and personal responsibility are reluctant to agree that criminalizing more conduct is a good idea but it can be difficult to articulate why laws such as the "safe storage laws" being proposed under legislation H.B. 1040 by Indiana Rep. Bartlett are a bad idea. However, if we do not speak up, laws of this nature will continue to be passed that will be ineffective in obtaining the goal of "safety" and will only serve to infringe upon the rights of law-abiding citizens and make politicians "feel good" because they have done "something". Please review the information below as you consider your position with respect to potentially allowing the legislature to criminalize your own conduct in your own home based upon how you store your own firearms and how you might need to use those firearms (which are tools) to combat crime directed at your own family by real felons.
1. From a policy standpoint, I do not see any conclusive proof that criminalizing more behavior in our society will produce fewer accidental gun deaths. It is likely that laws, such as the "safe storage law" being proposed, could do more harm than good by impairing the ability of law-abiding citizens to protect themselves. My son Alex and I have had the fortunate opportunity to meet and chat with Dr. John Lott. I can tell you that he is an incredibly thoughtful, intelligent, and informed person. Dr. Lott, who is generally thought of as a pro-gun economist, has studied and written on the subject of "safe storage laws." He addressed the topic in an article entitled "SAFE-STORAGE GUN LAWS: ACCIDENTAL DEATHS, SUICIDES, AND CRIME" written by John Lott and Jon Whitley (John R. Lott, Jr. and John E. Whitley, "Safe‐Storage Gun Laws: Accidental Deaths, Suicides, and Crime," The Journal of Law and Economics 44, no. S2 (October 2001): 659-689. It is available at https://doi.org/10.1086/338346 ). In the article he states: It is frequently assumed that safe-storage gun laws reduce accidental gun deaths and total suicides, while the possible impact on crime rates is ignored. We find no support that safe-storage laws reduce either juvenile accidental gun deaths or suicides. Instead, these storage requirements appear to impair people's ability to use guns defensively. Because accidental shooters also tend to be the ones most likely to violate the new law, safe-storage laws increase violent and property crimes against law-abiding citizens with no observable offsetting benefit in terms of reduced accidents or suicides.
2. We do not need to criminalize conduct for which the law already provides a remedy. Under current law, irresponsible storage of a firearm will likely result in a civil lawsuit against the responsible party if injury or death occurs to someone outside the household. If civil litigation is not enough, prosecutors also have possible criminal charges that might be pursued such as criminal recklessness. As an example, several months ago, a man was accused of bringing a loaded handgun into an IKEA store in Indiana and was charged with criminal recklessness after the gun purportedly came out of the man's pocket while he was seated on a couch in the store. A child subsequently found and fired the gun. Thankfully, no one was injured, but the man was charged.
3. It might seem repetitive, but I will also make the "slippery slope" argument — it is still very valid. "Safe storage laws" are another incremental government intrusion that will likely be ineffective. Too often, supporters of the law will try to justify even more intrusive laws under the pretense that the original law was only ineffective because it "did not go far enough." Unfortunately, we are often guilty of not opposing what appear to be seemingly harmless solutions from the state. However, by not opposing the state solution, we are tacitly endorsing the notion that state action is appropriate to solve a particular problem. When the state action does not produce the desired result, it will be because the state "did not go far enough" with "common sense legislation" - thus inviting ever more intrusive action (the slippery slope). As an example, remember when you could not be pulled over for a seatbelt violation? Now one can be pulled over for the violation because the original law "did not go far enough" in furthering the goals of the state. I wonder if a police officer has ever used the seatbelt law as a pretext to conduct a stop that would otherwise be illegal - that in turn led to a search that would have otherwise been illegal? Think about it – what if your ex-wife or ex-husband is unhappy with you and they decide to call the police to explain you have guns and they might not be stored properly. Subsequently, the police come to your door and you admit that your 17 year old, who has extensive firearms training, but is a "child" under Indiana law, does have the combination to your gun safe because you want him to have access to the firearm in the event it is needed on your rural homestead. Are you about to be defending a felony charge under the proposed statute?
4. And finally, this proposed law is probably unconstitutional. In the landmark case of Heller v. DC , the US Supreme Court held, among other things, that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home. The US Supreme Court also found that the DC trigger-lock requirement (as applied to self-defense) violated the Second Amendment. By the way - I have had the opportunity to meet Dick Heller who was the plaintiff in Heller v DC. We owe him a tremendous debt of gratitude for his courage in being a part of that case - along with those that litigated the case, Alan Gottlieb, founder of the Second Amendment Foundation and Alan Gura, attorney with Gura PLLC.
We expect movement on HB 1040 (Safe Storage Law) in the Indiana legislature this year. Please make your informed opinions known to your legislator and encourage others to do the same.