Why can’t I keep my gun in self storage?

By David on February 22nd, 2011 | No Comments

Why can't I keep my gun in self storage?

Not even airguns

In order to prevent crime and accidents, new regulations covering the storage and use of airguns were introduced on 10 February 2011. Owners now have to “take reasonable precautions to stop unauthorised access to their airgun by people under the age of 18.” Failure to comply with these regulations could result in a fine of up to £1000.

These regulations include advice about how to keep your weapon safe:

  • store your airgun out of sight and separately from pellets
  • use a robust, lockable cupboard and keep the keys separate and secure
  • always store your airgun inside a house rather than in an out building, such as a garden shed
  • never store a cocked or loaded airgun
  • when using your airgun, keep it under close supervision and never leave it unattended

So this regulation more or less rules out keeping an airgun in self storage.

The same applies, in more stringent form, to more serious, licensed firearms.

Keeping weapons out

Just about all reputable self storage centres will have a sign or leaflets that spell out what items you can’t store with them. What such lists contain is usually common-sense, and sometimes even humorous: Lok’nStore specifies that customers can’t keep live animals in their units, for example, which makes you wonder if someone once tried to.

Virtually all these lists mention guns, often specifically, although sometimes under the general headings of flammable and explosive items. Yet, as many of them will let you store other potentially dangerous things ‒ such as paint, perfume and fertiliser ‒ why do they object to guns specifically?

And is there any way in which guns could lawfully be kept in self storage?

Guns and storage: the law

In the UK, the laws governing gun storage are very strict. Getting a license to own guns on its own is hard enough (would-be licensees have to prove that they are personally suitable, and have legitimate sporting or work-related reasons to possess a gun). A Firearms Enquiry Officer (FEO) or Firearms Liaison Officer (FLO) from the local police force will interview the applicant and inspect the premises where the gun will be kept, as part of the process to check that the gun will be stored in a secure enough manner.

That said, the regulations are to some extent flexible, and left to the judgement of the local enforcing authorities. Specifically, the law says that guns “must be stored securely to prevent, as far as is reasonably practicable, unauthorised people taking or using them.”

Exactly what this requires owners to do in practice is a contentious subject within the shooting community, and has led to several court cases. That said, failing to meet any requirement of the licence is a breach of the shooting certificate which can lead to it being taken away, plus a fine or six months in prison, or even both in some cases.

Gun cabinets

Another issue is gun cabinets. A gun cabinet is recommended by the Home Office for gun storage, although this isn’t compulsory. There is a British Standard for gun cabinet design, but again it isn’t compulsory to have one that meets this; the Home Office also has its own list of specific technical recommendations for gun cabinets ‒ for instance, they should be made from sheet steel that’s at least 2mm thick, with all the seams being continuously welded. A gun cabinet can cost anything from around £100 to over £1700, depending on its size and the level of security it provides.

Self storage is not impossible

The Home Office Firearms Security Handbook (2005), under Paragraphs 3.16 to 3.23, lays down conditions under which “Warehousemen” can legitimately store firearms. “The nature of warehouse storage is such that firearms may be deposited with a company in a number of ways…” It goes on to list more specific stipulations, such as “Individual firearms should be stored in a secure area or cabinet which is equal to that provided for section 1 and 2 firearms… Where premises are not continuously manned, the premises, or those parts used for the keeping of firearms should be alarmed to BS4737.”

So, in theory, you could perhaps put a licensed gun in a self storage unit, if locked in a gun cabinet. In practice, this is very unlikely to be possible. For one thing, the Handbook also states elsewhere that “Under most circumstances, it is preferable that firearms should be secured within the occupied part of the structure. Separate, detached buildings, or those attached but having only external access (e.g. outhouses, garages etc) should not be used unless the levels of security warrant it.”

Essentially, there are probably just too many hoops to jump through. The vast majority of self storage managers just wouldn’t want the hassle.

Why guns and self storage don’t mix

Gun owners might be tempted to feel that a self storage warehouse unit might be a way of removing the danger of storing guns on their own property. But self storage managers ‒ accommodating though they might wish to be ‒ are unlikely to want to help in this instance.

Firstly, there is the legal side of it. If a self storage manager did want law-abiding members of the public to make use of centres to store fully licensed guns, this would involve arduous checks to ensure tenants genuinely had a legal right to own the weapons they put in self storage, and that they were properly stored.

Secondly, firearms and ammunition represent a hazard. Ammunition is explosive in its natural state (if not actually a fire risk in itself), without needing to be misused. Many domestic items that get put in self storage units are highly flammable ‒ especially soft furnishings and paperwork; that is risky enough, without the danger of having adjacent material that might explode in the event of a fire.

Thirdly, there is need for self storage centres to maintain good public relations. Britain is in some ways a very gun-phobic country, and the idea that guns were being kept in a self storage centre might be enough to put some people off storing there.

Should guns be kept in self storage units? The US case

These reasons make a compelling case for not keeping guns in self storage units. Yet the practice is actually quite common in America. There, the specific requirements for how securely guns need to be stored are decided on by each state, but are generally more relaxed than over here. It’s often just up to the self storage facility owner if they will allow guns on their premises, with many operating a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

It’s also actually very common to see guns at American self storage centres simply because a lot of live-onsite owners carry them for their protection. One contributor on the SelfStorageTalk forum wrote that he never goes around his facility unarmed. US self storage managers are also often tasked with having to dispose of guns when a tenant defaults, although they are usually sent to the police or a gun-dealer rather than just sold to anyone who comes in off the street at auction.

A further risk: the nightmare scenario when someone actually gets shot at a self storage centre, either by accident or when a dispute over possessions gets out of hand. This has been known to happen in the US when divorcing couples start trying to divide their possessions at a self storage centre…

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