Petaluma first in county to tighten gun storage law
Petaluma has become the first city in Sonoma County to pass an ordinance tightening the rules on gun storage, in an effort to increase safety and accountability among gun owners and eliminate accidental shootings in homes.
The ordinance, introduced and unanimously passed during the City Council’s Dec. 19 meeting, calls for all firearms within city limits to be stored in a locked container or disabled with a locking device. The ordinance also reduces the amount of time a gun owner has to report a lost or stolen firearm – from five days to two days.
“Unfortunately I know too well that having a loaded or unlocked gun in a home is associated with an increased risk of gun-related injury and death,” said Petaluma Deputy Police Chief Brian Miller during the Monday meeting. “Even more tragically, children are particularly at risk of injury and death from firearms when firearms are not safely secured in their home.”
Miller added that he has seen many such tragic cases in Petaluma during his more than 20 years of service. “Ultimately (the ordinance) makes owners of firearms be more responsible and accountable for their weapons,” he said.
Some Petaluma residents were not as supportive of the ordinance, with one person calling it “unenforceable” and another saying it takes away from their Second Amendment rights and may even create dangers for those who need access to a firearm quickly for self defense.
“Think about senior citizens trying to open their safe and loading up in the dark when a robber is breaking (through) the door armed with a knife or gun,” one resident said in a letter posted to the city website.
City Manager Peggy Flynn responded to such statements in another public letter, citing a study by the gun control initiative “Everytown for Gun Safety” in 2014 which “found that over a one-year period spanning 2012-13, at least 100 children were killed in unintentional shootings amounting to nearly two each week.”
The ordinance will give Petaluma police "another tool when they respond to domestic violence cases or other situations where PPD enters homes and view a firearm not being properly stored,” Flynn added.
Prior to council member Mike Healy’s motion to approve the ordinance, council member Dave King expressed his full support for it, adding that the Second Amendment does not prohibit gun regulation.
Council member Brian Barnacle seconded the motion, adding his support as well.
“The more that we can have our police officers talking about safe storage and safe handling and things like that, I think it’s good. You’re the right messenger for this,” Barnacle said in addressing the Petaluma Police Department.
At least 20 other California cities have adopted similar ordinances, Miller said, including San Francisco, Morgan Hill, Berkeley and others. Petaluma is the first in Sonoma County to pass such an ordinance.
Under current state law, firearms in homes must remain locked if the gun owner knows that a child – or a person prohibited by law from possessing a firearm – is likely to gain access to the weapon. The city’s new ordinance strengthens that requirement to include all firearms stored in homes, regardless of who lives there. Violations of the ordinance would be treated as misdemeanors.
“Keeping a firearm locked when it is not being carried ensures that it cannot be accessed and used by others without the owner's knowledge or permission,” Miller said.
A “locked container” is defined as “a secure container that is fully enclosed and locked by a padlock, keylock, combination lock, or similar locking device” and does not include the glove compartment of a vehicle, the staff report noted.
Project ChildSafe, a program of the National Shooting Sports Foundation, a trade association for the firearms industry, identifies the safe storage of firearms as the No. 1 way to help prevent firearms accidents, the staff report said. The Petaluma Police Department is also partnering with Project ChildSafe to provide free firearm safety kits to local gun owners.
Amelia Parreira is a staff writer for the Argus-Courier. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 707-521-5208.