Colorado leads states in storing guns outside of the home

Gun shops, training centers and police stations are places people can store guns outside of their homes to reduce gun violence and suicide attempts.
Posted at 3:08 PM, Apr 12, 2023

According to the New England Journal of Medicine, firearm-related injuries are the leading cause of death among children and teens in the U.S. 

In order to prevent gun violence or situations of self-harm, a growing number of states are offering places where people can store their firearms, like Bristlecone Shooting, Training and Retail Center in Lakewood, Colorado. Jacquelyn Clark is an owner.

"One of the things that we've taken very seriously in here since we opened is responsible firearms ownership in general, and secure storage is a big part of that," Clark said. "We set up the temporary storage arrangement here to really help and reach people that may be in a state of mental crisis, or have someone in their home that is going through a rough patch, mentally. But really, we found that people use it for a pretty wide variety of reasons."

Other reasons include the grandkids visiting, or somebody in the service being deployed.

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"We had somebody come in the other day who had a roommate who was okay with guns and then switched to a different roommate and they weren't really sure what their feeling was with regards to firearms," Clark said. "So, they wanted to store them outside of the home for a while, just until they got to know them better."

Clark says options for firearm storage at gun ranges and retailers is part of the Firearm Injury Prevention Initiative. It was spearheaded by Emmy Betz, a professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine.

"It really grew out of many of us who are researchers, who are clinicians, who are educators, feeling like we wanted to do more," Betz said. "We see people being shot and injured — whether from suicide or community violence — and we want to do our part to try to prevent those injuries and deaths."

Betz says Colorado was the first state to create an online map showing gun owners where they can temporarily store their firearms. Now, she says there are similar maps in Washington state, Louisiana, Wisconsin, Mississippi, New York, and Maryland.

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"We're really excited to be working in a space that's not about legislation and not about telling people what to do or what not to do, but really, about working with communities to find solutions to save lives," Betz said.

Betz says many people think to securely store their gun so a young child doesn't find it, but she says parents also need to think about their teenagers.

"I think one really important thing for us as adults and as parents to realize is that adolescents have a roller coaster of emotions and they are at risk of suicide, and they are at risk of hurting other people," Betz said. "And no one wants to think that their kid would do that, but they do."

Ashley Brooks-Russell is a Colorado School of Public Health associate professor who works on the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus. She wanted to find how many teens currently have access to a gun.

"What we found is that one in 10 youth in Colorado could access a gun in under ten minutes," Brooks-Russell said.

Her team's research was recently published in JAMA Pediatrics

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"We found that one in four teens said that they could find an unlocked and loaded gun in under 24 hours," Brooks-Russell said. "That might be at their home, it might be at another family member's home or at a friend's home."

Brooks-Russell says the first step in gun violence prevention is knowing what that access looks like.

"I think in many communities there's a bit of a taboo about talking about guns," Brooks-Russell said. "It can be a politically-charged issue. It can feel very personal. But if we don't talk about where our teens have access to guns, I don't think we can hope to change what that looks like and to keep them safe."

Clark says what's most important is that retailers build trusting relationships with the community, so people feel comfortable storing their firearms. However, she emphasizes it's not a one-size-fits-all solution. Betz says it's a good place to start.

"When we think about suicide, we know that during periods of risk, it's best if someone doesn't have access to a firearm," Betz said. "Just like friends don't let friends drive drunk. You don't want to get behind a wheel when you're not at your best. It's the same thing — you don't want to have access to a lethal weapon when you're in a potentially suicidal state."

Help is available to anyone who might be struggling. You can reach the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by dialing 9-8-8 or text "HOME" to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741.