Weapon safekeeping practices across the country

Police agencies remove weapons for safekeeping

Police agencies around the country are implementing weapon safekeeping practices.

In Baltimore, weapon safekeeping is happening at a nearly 400 percent increase, the Baltimore Police Department’s numbers show.

An analysis by Scripps reporters found guns seized for safekeeping by Baltimore police went from 58 in 2008 up to an average of 200 a year over the last three years.

That’s a total of nearly 1,000 guns in the last six years.

Police say it’s due to a commitment to try to continually de-escalate potentially deadly situations.

"It was a time when we began to start shifting our thinking to say, not only are we going to handle the call, but what is the next step?” Baltimore Police Sgt. Jarron said. “We began asking the question, are there any guns in the house? Is there anything in the house or any other circumstances that can cause you to become an additional victim?"   

Baltimore police say almost 50 percent of safekeeping firearms tested by the Evidence Control Unit are proven stolen, used in a previous crime or in the case of mental health wellness check, the person was never cleared by a physician.

Earlier this year, in Linn County, Iowa, the sheriff issued a written directive requiring deputies to ask individuals seeking help in mental health or substance abuse crisis situations to voluntarily hand over weapons in their home for safekeeping.

Sheriff Brian Gardner said “no one has taken us up on our offer to safeguard their weapons during such time as the voluntary and/or emergency committal process is in effect.”

Gardner said this could be because there are no weapons to safeguard or members of the household are able to keep the weapons safe without law enforcement involvement. “Barring any direction from the court for us to do anything further, our offer is often the best that we can do as long as the weapon is not a part of the specific issue,” he said.

Last year, the Consortium of Risk-Based Firearm Policy filed a report detailing how states can prevent gun violence through policy initiatives. One of those included a recommendation to allow private citizens to petition the court to request guns be temporarily removed from family members or close friends who possess a credible risk of harm to himself or others.

“I was asked why we didn’t have such a directive in place and I couldn’t think of a reason why not,” Gardner said. “It doesn’t hurt to ask, so we now do.”

Sean Caranna, Executive Director for Florida Carry, Inc., said, just because there are not written directives or policies in place, like the one in Linn County, Iowa, doesn’t mean the practice is not happening.

“You often see unwritten policies,” he said. “ A wink, wink, nudge, nudge, we are going to cover these during our shift briefings, but we are not going to write it down.”

Some states and municipalities address weapon safekeeping directly in laws or policies.

  • In Indiana police can confiscate guns from dangerous individuals and keep them for up to five years with court approval.
  • A Texas law allows an arresting officer to remove guns from a person taken into custody if the officer believes the person has a mental illness and poses a substantial risk to the person or others unless immediately restrained.
  • In Seattle, the police department will ask owners of the weapons for permission to take them from their homes. It is completely voluntary and as long as there is no crime associated with the weapon, it can be returned once the situation calms down, according to a department spokesperson.

John Firman, Director of Research for The International Association of Chiefs of Police, said policies and procedures like weapon safekeeping are “a question of common sense and trying to keep everyone as safe as we can keep them.”

At the federal level, U.S. Senators from California Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein have introduced the “Pause for Safety Act.”

The bill would let family members and acquaintances apply for a “gun violence prevention order” that let police take away guns from the person believed to be a potential threat. It would also allow courts to issue warrants allowing law enforcement officers to do the same.

The bill has also been introduced in the House by Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.).

In California at the state level, three lawmakers are pushing a similar measure. The bill must pass the state Legislature by Aug. 31 to go into effect.

WMAR Investigative Reporter Brian Kuebler contributed to this story.

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