If you own a gun, it's your responsibility to store it securely. But what's the best way? I had a chat with a senior firearms officer...
When you’re the owner of a gun you need to be vigilant about firearms security. Which means being safe out in the field, when you’re transporting the gun and when you’re storing your gun. The last thing you want to happen is for your gun to fall into the wrong hands.
Firearms security measures
“Many people don’t realise that the law does not actually require you have a purpose-made firearms cabinet,” said Dave Mathias, Explosive Liaison Officer with the Devon and Cornwall Police. “It just says that all reasonable measures must be taken to ensure their safe keeping. We do have to take a number of factors into account, such as the area you live in and its prevailing crime rates, when deciding how best firearms should be stored. In Devon and Cornwall we take the stance that all firearms should be kept in a British standard approved gun cabinet. It needs to be fixed to the fabric of the building and out of casual sight.”
What about if someone wants to do something different, such as convert a room or cupboard?
“We’ll consider anything sensible,” Dave confirmed.
In all cases the key wording is “all reasonable measures”, although this phrase has no clear legal definition. Your ordinary household security should include decent locks on doors and windows. Don’t forget to lock the front door if you are in the garden.
The gun cabinet should be out of sight of casual visitors – so the hall, kitchen and reception rooms are not normally suitable places. The utility room can be good, provided the washing machine or dryer do not vent moist air into it. There’s usually a flat surface on which the gun can be cleaned before being popped in the cabinet.
Attics, whilst difficult for a burglar to access, are not suitable as they have the largest temperature and humidity range of any part of the house, which is bad for your guns.
In Devon and Cornwall, if you have up to five guns you don’t usually need to fit an alarm unless you live in a known high-crime area. Up to 12 you’ll probably need a local alarm system and above that you’ll need a fully fitted building alarm. The police will also look at all sorts of other factors; the types of locks on the doors, window frame construction, even if you keep a dog in a house.
Safe firearms security conditions
“One of my first questions is whether the property has modern UPVC windows and double glazing,” said Dave. “I also always ask if the applicant is overlooked by neighbours and what kind of street lighting there is. It all builds up into a bigger picture of just how safe and secure conditions are.”
Firearms enquiry officer David Rees, who came out with Dave, gave an example of a recent visit that ended badly. “I went to see a new applicant who was very proud of his arrangements. The cabinet was in a crawl space — a good thing, as it was difficult to get at. Everything looked solid but when I gave the cabinet a tug, it came straight off the wall. He’d attached it to a plasterboard wall and sadly he had to think again.”
Find a solid wall and fit the cabinet flush to it was the advice of both officers. Be particularly careful about skirting boards because occasionally they leave large enough gaps for a crowbar to be used to prise the cabinet away.
“Sometimes gun owners, especially people such as re-enactors with antique-style muskets, can’t strip their guns down short enough to fit in a cabinet,” he added. “In such cases we’ll consider a suitable gun lock – we try to be practical.”
Dave stressed: “Our overall concern is preventing harm being done to people. That drives all our considerations.”
Losing your shotgun or firearms certificate
How easy is it to lose your shotgun or firearms certificate, I wondered. “We’ve had a few cases where people have refused to take suitable precautions or co-operate with us,” said Dave. “Some have even contested our decisions in court but as they are never taken lightly the decisions are usually upheld. Quite a lot of judges down here shoot, so they fully understand our concerns. The old days of keeping a shotgun in the corner of the farmhouse kitchen are long gone; it’s a case of finding a compromise between firearms security and practicality.”
Looking after the keys to your gun cabinet
Keys need to be hidden well. There have been cases where other members of a household, usually the holder’s spouse, know where to find them and that could cost you your certificate. Dave suggested a hiding place known only to you or perhaps a key press with your personal combination.
“People often wonder what will happen if you pass on,” he said. “You could consider putting a spare key in an envelope and lodging it with a solicitor; they don’t need to know what’s in it and your family can know that it’s there.”
Don’t keep your certificate with your guns
David summed up their approach. “What you are trying to do is deter an intruder in the first place — even dummy alarm boxes are useful — and then, if someone does break into your house, build in a delay so that it will take them longer getting into your cabinet than they are prepared to risk staying on the premises. And don’t keep your certificate with your guns — if anyone gets hold of them together, they can probably acquire ammunition or spare parts as well.
“Finally, keep a separate record of the serial numbers on your guns; if you lose your certificate, very often it’s the only place where you have a record of them.”
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Firearms security when travelling
If you leave your gun in the car, make sure it is out of sight and the car locked. Pub car parks are a popular venue for thieves. Always remove a key component such as the bolt or forend. If you have window stickers proclaiming your membership of a shooting organisation they also proclaim the possible presence of guns. A few years ago on Merseyside, some shooters were ambushed on the way home from the range and had their guns stolen.
A few hotels offer secure storage, but you can only use it for a rifle if the hotelier is an RFD. Shotguns can be stored provided the person accepting the gun has an shotgun certificate. In all cases you need to see the certificate and get a receipt. If there’s no secure storage you’ll have to keep a key component on your person at all times. There’s little excuse for having a gun stolen intact.