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Storing Your Firearms: Safe Options for Gun Storage

Jon Fesmire | July 30, 2015 @ 9:21 AM

There are more guns in the United States than there are people, so storage is an important issue. When a gun owner goes off to college or on a trip where firearms are not allowed, he’ll need to keep his gun or rifle safe somewhere.

This article revisits your options and answers several pressing questions. Can a friend legally hold onto your gun? Is self-storage an option? This article explores those possibilities and more.

Gun Storage Safety

Responsible gun owners know when and how to clean their guns. However, like any aspect of gun safety, this bears repeating: clean your gun before you store it. Gun residue can be explosive. You can brush up on gun cleaning procedures with WikiHow’s How To Clean a Gun, article, and American Handgunner Magazine editor Roy Huntington (has there ever been a better name for a gun magazine editor?) has a helpful YouTube video called Gun Cleaning 101.

Wherever you end up storing a firearm, give it three levels of safety. The first comprises making sure it’s unloaded and always locked with a trigger lock. The second is to put it in a safe, preferably made specifically for guns. The third is the storage place itself.

If you have rifles to store, finding a safe can be more difficult than if you have one or two handguns. One entrepreneur, Levi Smith, created Billy Boxes, high quality, safe storage boxes that attach to the back of a truck. They are a bit expensive, but appear to be worth it for the quality, and you could use a Billy Box to keep a rifle secure in a storage facility. You can also look for other rifle storage chests, but in my research I was especially impressed with Levi Smith’s product.

Introducing Billy Boxes

Storing With a Friend or Family Member

Probably the most common situation where you would have to leave your gun behind for an extended period is if you’re a college student living on or near campus, away from your parents. If you’re going away from home for awhile, whether to school or on a trip, and your parents or other trusted adults stay at home, the best thing you can do is store your gun in a safe, with your ammunition in a separate safe.

If that doesn’t work for you, consider having an adult friend or family member you do not live with store it for you. Again, use two safes: one for the weapon, and one for the ammo.

What the Law Has to Say

Actually transferring gun ownership to someone else requires legal paperwork and sometimes the involvement of a licensed firearms dealer. However, according to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), it is legal to lend one to a friend or relative, so long as that person is old enough and  you have no reason to expect that she cannot legally own a firearm. Asking a friend to store your gun should fall under that law.

To quote part of the law from the link above, “A person may loan or rent a firearm to a resident of any State for temporary use for lawful sporting purposes, if he does not know or have reasonable cause to believe the person is prohibited from receiving or possessing firearms under Federal law.”

Still, you bear certain ethical, and perhaps legal, responsibility should the gun end up being used in a crime. Take pictures of the guns with their serial numbers and store them on your phone, computer, and in the cloud. Ask the person holding on to your firearm to sign a storage agreement, perhaps one that says they will keep the gun and ammo in separate safes and not use them. They may ask you to pay a certain amount per week or month to hold them for you, and this should go in the contract as well.

It’s possible that you won’t be able to find a friend or family member to hold your gun for you. Some people are uncomfortable with a gun in the house. If this is the case, there are other good options.

Putting Your Firearms in Self-Storage

It is illegal to store firearms in self storage, period. The reason why is simple, but counterintuitive. Storage units can, and sometimes do, go to auction. This happens when a tenant hasn’t paid their rent for many months and the facility has done everything they are legally obligated to do to collect the debt from the renter.

Now, like anyone else, ex-felons are absolutely allowed to bid on self storage unit auctions. However, in general it is illegal for them to own firearms. If firearms could be legally stored in a unit, an ex-felon could get ahold of them this way.

The one exception to this “no guns in self storage” rule is the company Gunsitters, which specializes in storing firearms and ammunition.

Ken Stewart- photo credit

Getting a Safe Deposit Box

Since a gun doesn’t need much storage space, a good option is to store yours in a safe deposit box. Renting a safe deposit box should cost you in the range of $20 per year.

According to the Washington Savings Bank FAQ About Safe Deposit Boxes, “While there is no law against storing money or guns in a safe deposit box, most rental agreements prohibit the storage of explosives, intoxicating liquors, narcotics or any property of an illegal, malodorous or destructive nature.” Loosely translated: check with your bank, and if they do allow you to store a gun, it will, of course, need to be unloaded. The bank will almost certainly not allow storing ammo.

Banks often have discounted safe deposit box prices for members, so start your search with the bank you already use. Safe deposit boxes are usually pretty small, big enough for a handgun, but not for larger firearms. You probably won’t be able to store it along with its safe in your deposit box. If you have a hunting rifle, you will probably have to find somewhere else to store it, unless you find a bank with an option for larger boxes.

Turning To a Pawn Shop

It’s unfortunate that pawn shops have a bad reputation because there are many reputable pawn shops in any given city. You probably didn’t realize that a pawn shop can store your gun for you.

The way a pawnshop works (and the reason many people perceive them as shady) is this. They will lend you money against an item you bring in as collateral. You bring in an item, like a gun. You get a loan, and they hold the gun. You then make payments, including interest, and as long as you’re up on your payments, they keep holding the gun. If you default, they can then sell the gun.

So, while pawn shops are about loans, they can also be used to store your firearms when you have nowhere else to keep them. As with any of the storage options here, make sure to read the contract! There should not be extra storage fees or service charges. You can even see about storing your ammo with a pawn shop in the same way, though chances are they will not hold it for you.

Ask a Shooting Range

Gun owners often go to shooting ranges to shoot for fun. Some ranges rent out their guns to visitors for use on the range and do not allow you to bring your own gun. Others don’t rent and you have to bring your gun. The latter may allow you keep your gun at the range for a fee. Call your local shooting ranges and ask. If it’s available, it’s an excellent option.

Your Friendly Campus Police

If you’re a college student, you just might be able to store your firearms, often for free, with your campus police department. This seems to be a growing trend in the U.S., making it possible for students to start shooter’s clubs and to check out their firearms for off-campus use. This possibility is not available everywhere, but it’s a good idea to call your campus police department before checking anywhere else.

The Question of Ammo

It bears repeating: If you can store your ammo in the same facility as your firearms, make sure the guns are unloaded and that the ammo and weapons are in separate safes.

After reading this article, you surely understand that most places will not allow you to store ammunition. The exceptions may be at a friend’s home, at a shooting range, at a pawn shop, or with campus police. Even with these, ask explicitly and don’t be surprised if the answer is “No.”

When you’re going hunting or to a shooting range, all this means is that you’ll need to purchase some ammunition for the day.

Hopefully this article will help you find a good gun storage solution. Happy shooting!


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