WHO should have access to your Firearms…are you sure?

Posted on: July 26th, 2013
The other day I was asked about when it is OK or a problem to give others the combination to a gun safe or a key to a locked cabinet?  As I thought about this, I realized how simple the question is and yet how incredibly complicated the answer is.

My first question would be, “Who would be the people you would want to grant access to the safe?”

Prohibited persons, as defined in state law and under the Gun Control Act could not be given such a combination.  How about a spouse?  Depending on your state, a spouse could own a community interest in firearms acquired during marriage for example, so it would be logical to assume that access would not be a problem…

The “WHO” question is deceptively simple to answer, at least from the standpoint of criminal law.  Is a person a “prohibited person” or not?  Prohibited persons include those who are felons or in some cases charged with a crime, fugitives, unlawful users of or addicted to any controlled substance, a person adjudicated as a mental defective or committed to any mental institution, illegal aliens, dishonorable discharge from the military, those who renounced his or her United States citizenship, those who are subject to a court order restraining the person from harassing, stalking, or threatening an intimate partner or child of the intimate partner, or those who were convicted of a misdemeanor crime of domestic violence. WOW, probably a lot longer list than you might have initially suspected…as is the case with most people when asked this question.

The next question would be, “What type of firearms are stored in the safe or locked cabinet.”  We commonly refer to “conventional” firearms as pistols, rifles, and shotguns that are not registered in my state.  Then there are the six categories of “NFA” or National Firearms Act of 1934 firearms that are registered by the federal government and regulated by each and every state in some manner.  The state of Washington, for example, allows a gun owner to own three of the six types of NFA firearms so long as they are properly registered through the BATFE with a narrow exception for grandfathered machine guns and certain other exceptions for military and law enforcement agencies.

Even with these somewhat clear definitions, it is even more difficult as you continue to explore the law.  A spouse or relative may be committing a possession crime, or you may be committing a transfer crime, where an individually registered NFA firearm is involved.  And what about negligence law?  Can you be held civilly liable for negligent entrustment if you provide access to a firearm and it is misused?  Yes, and if the negligence is gross negligence, this too many be a crime.

So there’s much more to consider when you start thinking about it in terms of possessing and intentionally or unintentionally transferring firearms.  Even when locked up, when a person merely has access it can be both unlawful possession and an unlawful transfer. Did you pass the test? Did you get the real answer to these two critical questions? It’s OK if you didn’t, most don’t. The easy rule of thumb, keep that combination under wraps!
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