It will soon be easier for gun owners to find a place to store firearms outside of the home and away from those who could pose harm to themselves or others.
The Colorado Gun Storage Map is the first online resource of its kind in the country. The map details where community members and medical professionals can access off-site storage options for firearms across the state.
Faculty members at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus collaborated with gun shop owners, firearms trainers and public health researchers at the Colorado Firearm Safety Coalition to develop the resource.
Dr. Emmy Betz was a leader on the project and a link between the two entities. She is an emergency physician at CU and the co-founder of the Colorado Firearm Safety Coalition.
“This project initially started because we know that when folks are at risk of suicide, it can be a good idea to either lock up the gun or ideally move it outside of the home until the person's feeling better,” Betz said. “But there are other reasons, too. Let's say the grandkids are coming to visit, or you're going on an extended trip. Various reasons why someone might want to temporarily and voluntarily move a firearm out of their house.”
While there could be other motivations, preventing suicide is still the foremost reason for the program. There is a strong proven connection between having a gun in the home and an increase in the risk of death by suicide.
“There's lots of evidence that putting time and space between people and a weapon when they're at risk of suicide can save lives,” Betz said. “But we also know that getting it out of the house is a great way to put that time and space between a person and a weapon.”
The Colorado Gun Storage Map works differently and separately from the state’s new so-called “red-flag” gun law. Gunowners voluntarily store their firearms at one of the 62 places listed on the map, largely law enforcement agencies and gun shops. CU Anschutz will add more storage locations as they’re identified.
Contact information is listed for each site, and Betz recommends reaching out beforehand to best prepare.
“Don't just show up with a bunch of guns in your car,” she said. “At some, it's a safe deposit box where you each keep a key. Others, it's more of a true kind of transfer of the firearm. And there's a cost involved at some of them. That varies and so we didn't list all of that on the map.”
At some of the law enforcement agencies on the map, a background check may be run first before the firearm is returned.
One participating store is the Bristlecone Shooting, Training & Retail Center in Lakewood. Owner Jacquelyn Clark said joining the project was a “natural next step to be able to be more of a resource to the community.”
“We’ve been very active in suicide prevention and responsibly removing firearms from people that are in a time of crisis, whether it’s Alzheimer’s or other mental illnesses or a state of mental crisis,” Clark said.
In a statement, Dillon Police chief Mark Heminghous echoed that the department’s participation was another way for them to help the community.
“We want to be able to offer people the ability to have some time away from their firearms if they need it. We hope people will take us up on the offer before they experience a crisis,” Heminghous said.
Not all the logistics for the program have been worked out. One major question for some shop owners was what their liability would be if they returned a firearm to someone, only for that person to use it to complete suicide later.
“It's impossible to know 100 percent if the person is OK, because periods of risk, it's sometimes like a roller coaster. They go up and down,” Betz said. “I think the questions that the gun shops and the law enforcement agencies are asking about this are fair.”
For Clark, those undecided aspects are worth it for the potential rewards.
"We still haven’t worked out all those logistics and everything associated with it," Clark said. "But when (they) approached us about it, how could I say no? We should be able to figure out a way to provide these services to the community."