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Proposed city law would require gun owners to lock away firearms at home

A handgun and a gun safe. (Tech. Sgt. Thomas Dow/U.S. Air Force)

A proposed ordinance that would require gun owners to lock away or disable their firearms at home is headed to the San Diego City Council after being considered by a divided Public Safety and Livable Neighborhoods Committee on Wednesday morning.

City Attorney Mara Elliott proposed the Safe Storage of Firearms Ordinance as a way to reduce accidental shootings of children and other firearm-related injuries and deaths.

Elliott noted on Wednesday that the meeting was one day after the sixth anniversary of the death of a 10-year-old boy who was accidentally shot after he and a playmate found a pistol in a neighbor’s garage in Scripps Ranch.

Committee Chair Barbara Bry and Councilwoman Vivian Moreno supported the proposal and Councilman Chris Cate opposed it, sending the item to the full City Council without a recommendation.

The ordinance would require all firearms in a residence be stored in a locked container, or disabled by a trigger lock, unless they are being carried by or are under control of the owner, according to a news release from Elliott and a staff report by her office.

According to that staff report, which was issued last month, the new ordinance “does not substantially burden the right or ability of owners to use firearms for self-defense in the home.”

“The locking requirements in this Ordinance apply only to firearms that are not being carried on the person or in the person’s immediate control,” Elliott’s staff wrote in the report. “Under this Ordinance firearm owners may carry loaded and unlocked firearms in the home at any time and the safe storage requirements allow owners to store firearms loaded if they wish.”

What the ordinance does, according to Elliott and her staff, is address “the very real risks posed by unsecured firearms in the home,” by helping to prevent accidental shootings, teen suicides and firearm thefts during home burglaries.

Elliott called the proposed changes “a common-sense approach” to preventing firearm deaths, citing gun-safety studies showing that safe storage laws “are the single most successful method of preventing suicides and unintentional injuries and deaths among children.”

According to statistics provided by the city attorney, just 54 percent of firearm owners with children at home keep their firearms secured.

Speakers in favor of the proposal on Wednesday included members of Veterans for Peace and various gun-safety advocates, including some who argued that the ordinance soon would become as accepted as seat belt laws.

Bishop Cornelius Bower supported the ordinance and said San Diego Police Chief David Nisleit had told him that many guns on the street come from residential burglaries.

Opponents argued that the law could criminalize law-abiding gun owners and put their lives in danger because they would not be able to access their weapons fast enough to fend off an intruder.

San Diego County Gun Owners Executive Administrator Wendy Hauffen called the proposed ordinance an unnecessary government over-reach.

“It’s a duplicative law,” she said. “The state already requires gun owners to store their guns away from children.”

Cate said he supported existing state laws about gun safety, but had concerns about how the new ordinance would be enforced. Violations of a similar law in San Jose often come to light only after a gun stolen in a burglary is used in a crime, he said.

Some speakers said they supported the ordinance because it would keep firearms away from people attempting suicide or give gun owners a few moments for a second thought when considering taking their lives.

Bry said she also believed it would help curb suicides, and she shared a personal reason for supporting the proposed law.

“I actually have two friends who committed suicide by guns, and so I appreciate that when you try to kill yourself with a gun, it’s usually always final,” she said. “And I do find that this is a compelling public health issue.”

Elliott said the Safe Storage ordinance is part of her broader effort to promote gun safety in the city. She cited gun violence restraining orders as a tool authorities are using to remove firearms from people who pose a risk to themselves and others.

Since its launch in December 2017, Elliott’s office has used the gun violence restraining order program to remove hundreds of guns from more than 150 people, “including more than a dozen assault rifles from dangerous owners,” according to a statement.


© 2019 The San Diego Union-Tribune

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