Many legal gun owners with mental illness may not store their guns safely, and for some, there are times when secure storage outside of the home is required.
What to do with a gun when your home is not safe? What to do with a gun when YOU are not safe?
The National Institute of Mental Health estimates 26.2 percent of Americans have a diagnosable mental illness - that’s over 82 million people. And, like it or not, the vast majority of people with mental illness have the constitutional right to own a gun.
Only a few Americans are prohibited from gun ownership. They include those who have been involuntarily committed or have been judged “guilty but insane” of a crime - a small percentage of the total.
Tens of millions of others have the same right as you do to own a firearm, and certainly some among them will exercise that right.
Look at it another way: according to the General Social Survey, 34 percent of Americans already own a gun, or 106.7 million. We could estimate that 26.2 percent of them - just short of 28 million - will also have a diagnosable mental illness.
That’s more than the population of Texas.
The vast majority of gun owners with mental illness are responsible, never commit a crime, and take gun security seriously.
That’s why gun owners with mental illness need a gun storage plan - because they’re responsible, law-abiding and serious. But they also know there may be times in their life where gun violence is a risk - mainly to themselves - and it’s unsafe to have a firearm accessible.
Local gun shops advised me there is no private gun storage business in the area. General storage companies rent storage space by the month, but those same weapons experts wouldn’t store their guns in a rental storage unit: it’s not sufficiently secure, or sufficiently insured, for firearms.
When asked how to store a gun, the experts had two pieces of advice. The first was adult Americans should be armed at all times. The second was if you can’t keep a gun safe, you should sell it. Both are extreme and impractical solutions.
If you’re a gun owner who’s entering a period of crisis and needs safe storage for your weapons, here are some solutions you can reasonably and practically accomplish.
For a single pistol, any quality gun shop can sell you a two-lock pistol safe. It looks like a small tool case and has both a combination lock and a key lock. Cost is about $160. Double lock your pistol in the case and give the key to a trusted friend or family member for the duration. Talk with them clearly and frankly about when to return the key - and when not to return the key.
Here’s another thing you can do.
Call your local police bureau’s non-emergency number and ask for an officer to come by your home and take your gun into secure storage. The service is free, available for as many weapons as you want stored, for up to 90 days. The officer who comes by can give you the details, and will provide you with case number and inventory receipt to retrieve your property.
Finally, here’s some advice for contacting the police.
Call ahead and tell them you have a weapon you would like taken into inventory. There’s no need to tell officers on the phone or when they arrive about mental illness or drug or alcohol use. That is not required – or expected. Keep it simple. The dispatcher may ask you what clinic you go to or what medicines you take. Just decline to answer.
When officers arrive at your home, leave your weapon in the house, keep the door open, and come outside to meet them. Show your hands at all times. Show the officers your identification. Follow the officer’s instructions. For their safety and yours, officers may ask you to sit or lie down on the ground while they secure the weapon.
Keep cool, keep calm. And have a plan for that gun.
Jason Renaud is a longtime mental health advocate with the Mental Health Association of Portland.