"Safe Storage Map" Illustrates The Need For National Conversation

Photo Courtesy of the National Shooting Sports Foundation

The topic of suicide and firearms pops up regularly. When we’re given different statistics, such as the nearly 40,000 deaths due to firearms, we, no matter which side of the isle we’re on, have to acknowledge that almost two-thirds of those deaths are suicides. That’s not to say the number of deaths due to firearms overall is not meaningful. However, this does point to some important compartmentalizations that should be happening. Suicide does not equal crime as in the criminal element and politicians, policy makers, and anti-gun zealots need to stop conflating the numbers to serve their narrative.

An October 15th article in the Patch, drew my attention: “Crisis At Home? Map Shows Where You Can Store A Gun In New Jersey”.

Need to find a place to temporarily – and legally – store a firearm in New Jersey when there’s a crisis at home? Now there’s a map for that, according to the New Jersey Gun Violence Research Center.

Recently, researchers at the Rutgers-based center teamed up with the New Jersey Department of Human Services Division of Mental Health and Addiction Services to create an interactive map, which shows locations where gun-owning residents can find safe storage for their firearms.

This all sounded great, but knowing what I know about New Jersey law, and also the topic of FFLs storing firearms, I knew the situation was not as cut-and-dried as the piece made it seem to be. I headed over to the New Jersey Gun Violence Research Center website for more information.

The issue I had (and still have) with turning to this resource for any type of information is that the center was put into place by anti-freedom, anti-civil rights, Governor Phil Murphy. The Murph has never had anything nice to say about law abiding gun owners, and in fact has made a Pavlovian habit of making sure anytime “firearm” is said, something negative or a policy to “control” them would follow in his statements. Looking at the Rutgers Center’s headlines in their news section and at some of their press releases should give most what they need to know about the group:

  • Firearms Laws Curb Rates of Gun Violence Across United States
  • Handgun Ownership Associated with Firearm Suicide
  • States with More Gun Laws Have Lower Youth Gun Violence, Rutgers…
  • People Who Purchased Firearms During Pandemic More Likely to Be Suicidal

Nowhere in the press releases were there any studies involving the lawful use of firearms for self-defense. Nor was there any mention of anything redeeming, whatsoever about gun owners. Looking at the press releases leads me to believe the group is another puppet (like the acting Attorney General) for The Murph to utilize in his crusade to crush anything freedom oriented. But what about the map mentioned?

Looking at the page hosting the map, we get the following information:

This map was developed to help community members seeking local options for temporary, voluntary firearm storage. As of February 2021, the businesses listed on this map are willing to consider requests for temporary, voluntary firearm storage. Temporarily storing a firearm outside of the home can be especially helpful to those in crisis and/or at risk for suicide. However, an individual may seek temporary, voluntary firearm storage outside of the home for several reasons, described below.

The page goes on to explain some of the process but was lacking some important details. One of the biggest things not noted on the page was how an individual can get their firearms back. After some back and forth, I ended up in a conversation with Michael Anestis, the Executive Director of the New Jersey Gun Violence Research Center. To Anestis’s credit, he did not try to blow any hot air at me and my questions about the legal mechanics behind storing and getting back firearms, acknowledging that legal issues were out of his purview.

My talk with Anestis was pleasant. Should Anestis and I be having coffee and or out somewhere socially, I’m sure we’d get along swimmingly as long as we stayed away from some hot button topics. When alluding to the, at the time, upcoming oral arguments on the NYSRPA case, I expressed my personal excitement and noted that he probably did not share the same level of zeal as I did. Anestis did matter of factly remind me that we did have a pleasant conversation and that there was no need to muddle that at that time. Anestis and I agreed on a lot more than not on this particular subject though. Both of us noted there are changes that can be made in New Jersey and at the federal level. The important takeaway from my conversation with the Executive Director of what I’d consider an anti-gun research think tank is that we both agreed the process we currently have to aid people in giving them the opportunity to store their firearms elsewhere when in need is something that has to be overhauled.

If someone were to take their firearm(s) to a participating FFL, that FFL would have to enter the firearm into the “books.” When discussing this with Joshua Prince, an attorney from Prince Law Offices and Firearm Industry Consulting Group, who specializes in firearm law, as well as some of the intricacies of such arrangements on a federal level, I asked him bluntly “Can someone store their firearms at an FFL?” His reply was “Yes,” as long as the firearms got logged in the Acquisition and Disposition logbook. Prince, taking a legal view on this versus my own view, which would say “It’s complicated” when it comes to such storage options.

The biggest reason I say “It’s complicated,” is because once a firearm is logged into the Acquisition and Disposition logbook, one needs to fill out a 4473 and get a NICS check in order to be reinvested with the firearm. That might be the difference between someone deciding to not participate due to potential ramifications and them willingly, on their own accord, having firearms held onto for safekeeping in a time of crisis.

Some of this is echoed in an opinion piece by Anestis:

Suggestions of storing firearms outside the home are often met with resistance. One reason for this is that we have failed to provide firearm owners with a clear path for legally doing so. This is starting to change. Several states have developed safe firearm storage maps that connect individuals to firearm retailers and law enforcement agencies willing to consider offering temporary storage.

It’s that lack of a “clear path for legally” having firearms held onto by another individual, or at another location that makes this something that might not be celebrated by all people. Take for example in New Jersey, this is especially complicated because for every pistol one acquires, they must have a Pistol Puncher’s Permit. To further mix things up, New Jersey has a one gun a month law. Should someone enter into the books 5 handguns for storage, and that person wishes to get those guns back and they have no disqualifiers, that process will take 5 pistol permits and 5 months to occur. Also in New Jersey there would be a background check with fees in order to get the pistol permits, which also have fees, and then to be followed up with NICS background checks, with more fees, for each pistol for each month. Yes, an individual can get an exemption form from the NJ State Police to acquire more than one pistol in a month, but that’s more paperwork and red tape. You can’t simply say “Hey, hold onto these” and then come back for them in a week or two. That’s not how it works.

One of the more meaningful things that can happen in New Jersey is for a law change to occur that would allow for family members or friends to take possession of firearms on a temporary basis. There’s nothing in New Jersey law that would allow for domestic partners, spouses etc., to temporarily transfer firearm possession in an emergency for self-defense, never-the-less having a family member or friend look after some guns at another location if there are problems at home.

People in crisis, whether it’s some sort of a mental health situation or a change in a given household with things going south, would be much more willing to hand their property over to a friend or loved one, than to involve the government – which is essentially what they’d be doing by having their firearms “logged” at an FFL. That’s the difference between compliance and quality compliance. This was a point that Anestis and I agreed on. His point was he’s in the business of “saving lives”, so to him, however to achieve that is okay. Who knows what The Murph would think about that! A suggestion that involves making the law less strict to save lives?

The map that is published on the Rutgers site does have a number of participating locations. I reached out to every location listed on the map and only two replied to me.

Eric Rebels, one of the owner/operators of Gunsitters and I had a chance to chat about his participation in the program. He gave me a good deal of information which aided in my research. Gunsitters is not an FFL so they don’t have the same issues that an FFL would have in the event of a firearm being stored at that location. Rebels told me:

We are a landlord of a gated community. People can come and go as they please with their firearms, putting them in and out of the vault whenever they want.

Essentially Gunsitters is a type of self-storage for firearms. The location had to get special permissions from the state in order to operate their business, as the laws in New Jersey are so restrictive that such an operation could not just open their doors and be in full compliance of the law.

If a person were to be so inclined, he or she could enter into contract with Gunsitters and have a storage unit leased for their firearms. Rebels did explain to me that they do have different arrangements and could enter into agreements with a court etc. if needed for them to hold onto firearms. In such a situation they would only return the firearms should any and all disqualifiers be lifted. The big picture, Gunsitters has the right idea and jumped through the hoops to where an individual can exclude the government from their business and have their firearms stored at a different location.

FSS Armory was the other location to get back to me. They have two programs that they offer for firearm storage. One is similar to how Gunsitters operates and the other is through their FFL with the firearms needing to be logged in order to be stored.

This is great that New Jersey is working towards organizing a list of participating locations, even if all but two were not willing to discuss it, but that does not change the fact that this is a national issue. Colorado has a similar program listing FLLs that are willing to participate in such practices. What about the rest of the country? What about pulling from someone that’s trusted? Well, there is one such organization that exists called Hold My Guns.

Hold My Guns was created to do what these other groups are trying to do, but they are from the Second Amendment community. Like many groups looking to address some of the other issues that surround firearm ownership such as suicide, Hold My Guns does not advocate for legislation to make things more strict, but rather to work within the framework that already exists. From the Hold My Guns website:

Working together within the firearms community, combined with appropriate community partner alliances, we will raise awareness and promote a self-governance, non-legislative approach to addressing the prevention of suicide, theft, and accidental shootings. We will encourage educational and enrichment opportunities that approach stressors contributing to suicide risk (such as financial wellness, conflict resolution, or re-acclimation after deployment) in a way that is matter-of-fact, helpful, and in the stigma-free environment of partnering gun shops. Isolation and lack of connectedness, which are risk factors for suicide, are holistically addressed as gun shop customers volunteer shoulder-to-shoulder through community service opportunities available through HMG partnering gun shops. It is inevitable that those taking the time to serve others will in turn feel a sense of pride and camaraderie knowing that they are working together to make a difference in their neighborhood.

While working on the research needed to write this piece, I connected with Sarah Joy Albrecht, the Co-Founder and Executive Director of Hold My Guns, several times. She alerted me of some of the ins and outs involved in the business of getting FFLs to agree to hold people’s guns for them. When I asked her about what message she thought was important to get out there, this is what she had to say to me:

It is always important when we’re thinking about firearms-related deaths to remember that there are between 60,000-2.5million defensive gun uses each year.  Defensive gun use is defined as one that protects someone against victimization.

In contrast, the actual number of firearms-related deaths in 2017 was about 39,773, according to the CDC.  Of these figures, 60% (23,854) of gun-related deaths in the U.S. were suicides, while 37% (14,542), were murders. The remainder were unintentional, involved law enforcement, or had undetermined circumstances.
Although the number of defensive uses significantly outweigh the number of firearms-related deaths, some have weaponized suicide statistics by lumping them under the term “gun violence”, a term that creates stigma as it equates suicidal ideation to premeditated armed robbery,  to promote a politically-charged agenda to take away rights. It is understandable why gun owners are skeptical of firearms-related suicide prevention measures!
Yet, the sad truth is that over 20,000 Americans are still dying from suicide by firearm each year.
Being as we as a community value life and want to protect it, it is logically consistent that those 20,000+ lives lost should matter to gun owners. We know that these numbers represent people — husbands, wives, teenagers, Veterans, grandparents, doctors, police officers, etc.
While it is impossible to comment on every firearms-related suicide prevention initiative out there, I can say that Hold My Guns is a “for gun owners, by gun owners” organization.  In addition to helping to save lives, Hold My Guns recognizes that, if we as a firearms community take leadership to help reduce the 20k+ firearms-involved suicides each year, we are simultaneously reducing 60% of the rationale fueling gun control legislation. Yes, calling our legislators to react by sharing concerns about proposed gun control legislation is a wise course of action. Yet, we have a tremendous opportunity to take a proactive approach by providing storage to gun owners and promoting suicide prevention awareness within our beloved firearms community.
I urge the firearms community to support the mission of Hold My Guns knowing that it is not only our goal to save lives and protect property, but also to preserve rights.  We are not funded by “gun violence” research grants, but instead by the grassroots efforts of the firearms community.

If I had to put my chips on any of the competing “maps” or “programs”, mine are going to end up on the Hold My Guns squares. There is something to having an industry member that’s looking after all of our best interests for the better good.

When I was talking to Prince about this he told me that no one is addressing this issue at the ATF. In no place is there a policy stated that “this” is the way such situations are to be handled. There are no published documents. Everything that is going on is happening basically on a case by case basis. Here is a place where the ATF can have an impact and they’re not stepping up to the plate to swing. Granted, having federal legislation to back up the intent of such polices would be a good thing. In Prince’s words:

This issue is not something that is addressed by the ATF publicly anywhere. There is no specific regulation relative to this.

To which I followed up with:

It almost seems like we need to have a…and I’m the last guy to say ‘we need a law for this’, we need legislation to allow for this [the ease of firearm storage at another location] to happen.

Prince agreed and added:

I agree and quite honestly I would proffer that it should be consistent with the regulation that does not require a background check and an ATF 4473 form to be completed. Because otherwise, you may end up with people who are reluctant to go through with safe storage because they don’t want to have to deal with that process.

And finally, as we continue to ice this cake, I would be remiss not to mention one of my favorite pro-2A organizations that aims to normalize mental health conversations among gun owners, Walk the Talk America (WTTA). WTTA’s resident marriage and family therapist and board member, Jake Wiskerchen, told me that many of his patients own firearms and are skittish even to enter counseling because they are afraid of being judged or having their guns taken.

Wiskerchen said that WTTA’s efforts aim to change that suspicion by training mental health clinicians about gun culture by offering cultural competence classes that are good for continuing education credit. But he also said that the other side of that coin is to demystify for gun owners what counseling means and how it works. Wiskerchen said:

We don’t have some batphone to the government.

We can’t just take your property. At least not without risking our licenses and our livelihood.

Wiskerchen continued by discussing how it’s understandable why firearms owners – including police and military – would be afraid of getting help, and finalized his sentiments with:

But that’s why I chose to come out of the closet as a gun-owning clinician. Because I’m not the only one and the 2A crowd needs to know that not all [clinicians] are judgmental anti-gunners who have an agenda. I hope to help other mental health providers come out with me and offer more help so gun owners stop shooting themselves.

Regardless on which side of the fence one sits, this is a subject that needs a national conversation. The policymakers in DC need to hang up the notion of trying to regulate their way out of tragic situations and the firearms community needs to be willing to talk about some of these problems with an open mind.

As we continue to navigate 21st century United States with freedoms on our mind, this is a topic that we should be thinking about. If we don’t step up and get involved in the dialogue, people that don’t believe in what we believe in will be setting policies on these topics. There is a lot that Michael Anestis and I probably don’t see eye to eye on. I’m happy to talk to him any day to help him on the things we do agree on, and perhaps help him better understand my position on the things we don’t agree on. That, and Michael…open invitation anytime you’d like to go to the range or grab a coffee. You’ve got my number.

Nov 26, 2021 10:30 AM ET