Colorado Law Requires Gun Owners to Properly Store Firearms

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By: Bill Henry
PublishedMay 26, 2021
5 minute read

A new gun storage law took effect July 1, 2021. The safe gun storage law requires Colorado gun owners to securely store their firearms when they are not in use. The purpose behind the gun storage law is to keep firearms out of the reach of juveniles and other people who are prohibited from having one, such as people with a domestic violence conviction.

This article explores the gun storage law requirements, penalties for not following it, and defenses if you happen to break it. A gun owner who is charged with failing to properly store their gun faces jail time, fines, and a criminal record.

gun storage law

Talk to a Criminal Defense Attorney 

One of the first calls you should make when you’re faced with criminal charges is to an experienced criminal defense attorney. Our criminal law attorneys offer initial case assessments. This meeting gives you an opportunity to understand your rights and explore your legal options, as well as get to know the attorney who may be defending you. Call 303-688-0944 to set up that appointment or schedule it online.

Safe Gun Storage Law

The Safe Storage for Firearms law is very specific about what it means to responsibly store a gun. The image of a gun safe with a combination lock may immediately come to mind, but that is not necessarily your only option.

What responsible storage means, according to the law:
  • the gun is on your person, or
  • the firearm is in such close proximity to your person that you can easily retrieve it as if it were on your body, or
  • the gun is kept in a locked gun safe or another secure container, or
  • a locking device is properly installed on the device, or
  • the safety characteristics of a personalized firearm are activated.

The gun storage law requires that the gun is stored in a manner that prevents juveniles or anyone in your home who is ineligible to have a firearm from getting to it.

Minors and other unauthorized users in your home cannot:
  • have access to the gun safe’s key
  • know the combination to the safe or storage container
  • be able to open other unlocking mechanisms

Personalized Firearms

For the purposes of this law, a personalized firearm means that it has technology in its design to allow the gun to only be fired by the authorized user. The gun’s technology must prevent its safety characteristics from being readily deactivated by anyone other than the authorized user.

Some of that personalized firearm technology includes:
  • fingerprint verification
  • magnetic encoding
  • radio frequency tagging
  • biometric, mechanical, or electronic user ID systems

Note: Antique guns are excluded from the gun storage law.

Violating the Safe Storage Law

You have committed unlawful storage of a firearm if you know, or reasonably know, that an unsupervised juvenile can access a gun in your house.

The same goes for people living with you who are ineligible to have a gun. You, as a gun owner, could be criminally charged if a person prohibited from having a gun – someone with a felony record, for instance – gains access to your firearm while residing in your house.

Here is how the law specifically reads:

“[a] person commits unlawful storage of a firearm when the person fails to responsibly and securely store a firearm…upon any premises that the person owns or controls and the person knows or reasonably should know that: [a] juvenile can gain access to the firearm without the permission of the juvenile’s parent or guardian; or [a] resident of the premises is ineligible to possess a firearm pursuant to state or federal law.” (emphasis added). CRS § 18-12-114(2)(a)

Penalties for Unlawful Storage

If you fail to properly store your firearm, you could be charged and convicted of a class 2 misdemeanor. CRS § 18-12-114(2)(b)

In Colorado, class 2 misdemeanors are subject to jail time, fines, or both. If a judge orders jail time, you could get three to 12 months behind bars. The fines for class 2 misdemeanors range between $250 and $1,000. CRS § 18-1.3-501

Are You Liable for Visitors?

That’s a question many gun owners will be wondering about in the months to come. Let’s start with the answer for juveniles. If your house guest is a juvenile, yes, you could be criminally charged if they get ahold of an improperly stored firearm at your home.

But what about adult visitors who are prohibited from having a gun? We have the (current) answer for you. But first, let’s consider a scenario we’ll call the brother-in-law scenario.

Brother-in-Law Scenario

Let’s say your brother-in-law crashes at your house after dinner one night. Your brother-in-law has a previous criminal conviction that prohibits him from having a gun. While he is staying at your house for the night, he takes one of your guns from a closet.

Under the current gun storage law, could you be held criminally liable for your brother-in-law taking your gun?

Right now, the answer is, no. You will not be held liable for adult house guests who steal a gun from you, but that could change.

As we noted earlier, the gun storage statute specifically states that a resident of the premises who is ineligible to have a gun should not be able to access one. So, what does a resident of the premises actually mean?

Meaning of Resident of the Premises

Colorado does not have a uniform definition of what it means to be a resident of the premises. However, we can turn to case law and regulations to get some clarity on this question. Believe it or not, how our state’s jurors are selected provides some really good insight on the resident portion question of the gun storage law.

Our state’s potential jurors are called for possible service based on where they reside.

Take Jefferson County, for instance. People who primarily live in a house, apartment, or another place of habitation that is fixed in Jefferson County are considered residents of that county.

Now, what if these same Jefferson County folks leave their house, apartment, or another place of habitation for a period of time? They are still considered residents of Jefferson County as long as they intend to return to that home at some point.

So here’s what that means:

Generally speaking, Colorado law considers a resident of the premises to be someone who actually lives at your house. This does not include someone who may crash at your place for a night.

Visitors are Excluded – for Now

As of May 2021, the gun storage law is silent on whether it expands the definition of resident or keeps it narrow.

That means you are off the hook for adult house guests for the time being.

What we will want to keep an eye on is whether state lawmakers will revise the meaning of resident to make it as expansive as possible. If that happens, the gun owner could be held responsible in scenarios like the brother-in-law example we noted above. So this is something we want to closely watch.

Legal Defenses for Failure to Properly Store Guns

If you do get charged with breaking the gun storage law, you do have some defenses. For instance, if a minor gets access to your gun and uses it, the statute offers some affirmative defenses to that.

Affirmative defenses if a juvenile obtains and uses your gun:
  • the minor used it to defend themselves or someone else
  • the juvenile defended against an intruder in the home
  • there was a need to defend livestock

Remember, the burden is always on the State to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, not on the gun owner to prove his or her innocence.

If you’re ever in this position, we strongly recommend you talk with a criminal defense attorney. A skilled criminal defense attorney will be able to help you develop a strong defense.

Gun Dealers & the Safe Storage Law

Provide Locking Devices & Notice

The law does not end at the gun owner. It also requires Colorado gun dealers to provide every firearm they sell or transfer with a locking device that is capable of securing the gun.

Colorado Revised Statute § 18-12-506 defines a licensed gun dealer as someone who is licensed to import, manufacture, or sell firearms.

Note: The locking device requirement does not apply to antique gun sales.

Gun dealers must also notify customers that unlawful storage can result in jail time or fines. This notice must be posted in plain sight at the gun shop. And the lettering in the notice has to be at least one inch in height.

The notice must read:

Unlawful storage of a firearm may result in imprisonment or a fine.

Gun dealers who do not comply with this law can be charged with an unclassified misdemeanor and be fined up to $500.

Charged with a Crime?

It’s critically important for you to understand your legal rights and options if you are charged with a crime. Do not try to navigate the criminal process on your own. A criminal defense attorney will be your strongest ally when you’re up against local or state prosecutors.

Call 303-688-0944 to set up a case assessment, or make the appointment online.

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